Candidates give their answers
These are the questions posed by the Communist Platform to those standing for the leadership
1. Do you publicly criticise all calls, manifestos and organisations calling for a British withdrawal from the European Union? Will you publicly advocate the programme of establishing working class power throughout Europe?
2. Do you oppose the idea of forming some kind of bloc within Left Unity that includes the social-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty? Should those who support the pro-Nato government of Petro Poroshenko, who refuse to condemn the 2003 invasion of Iraq or the possibility of an Israeli nuclear strike against Iran, be considered legitimate bloc partners?
3. Do you give priority to Left Unity or the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition? Do you agree that Tusc is a diversionary Labour Party mark II project?
4. Do you support openness and accountability? Do you consider reporting and commenting on Left Unity officers, branches, regions, national council, conferences, etc, perfectly normal and acceptable? Will you publicly condemn the suspension of Laurie McCauley? Do you demand his immediate reinstatement?
5. Do you disassociate yourself from those who resort to violence or threats of violence within the left? Will you insist that anyone found guilty of making such threats issue a public apology, no matter how belatedly?
6. Do you think Left Unity should draw a clear red line between the socialist politics of the working class and the petty bourgeois politics of the Green Party?
7. Do you support the call for a Left Unity constitutional conference in 2015?
Pete Green (principal speaker)
I am reluctant to respond to these questions from the Weekly Worker, given your despicable attack on Salman Shaheen last year, when you used the adjective “cowardly” to describe his public rejection of a call to arm the workers, when what was at issue was simply a political difference.
The bombastic language deployed by Jack Conrad in his contextualisation of the questions (“Bonapartist”, etc), a language which in the hands of Marx was both fresh and comprehensible, in the Weekly Worker, as elsewhere on the supposedly revolutionary left, has become cliché-ridden and unreadable. These fossilised thought processes will eventually consign the CPGB to the dustbin of history in what I hope is a not too distant future (although I exempt the work of Moshé Machover from this indictment).
My strategic perspective for Left Unity is to break out of the ghetto of the far left, as Syriza and Podemos in their different ways have succeeded in doing. The politics of the CPGB would keep us there indefinitely, fantasising about the day when the masses break in, sign up to the maximum programme and rescue us from oblivion.
That said, I agreed to respond, lest you embarrass me, as you have the estimable Dave Landau (who wrote our excellent brochure on migration), by including me on your list of recommendations. So in order as presented:
1. I have opposed calls to leave the EU, but voted not to support Britain joining the euro, and for a socialist Europe, not a neoliberal one (and am supporting the Left Platform within Syriza on the question of Greece being prepared if necessary to leave the euro zone). In Britain, however, the critical issue in a referendum would be no alignment with the UK Independence Party and the nationalist right.
2. I am adamantly opposed to any bloc with the AWL, primarily because they defend the Zionist project in Israel. (Is this a reference to a joint candidacy of a Workers Power member and an AWL member for the trade union officer post? I am shocked by that).
3. My priority is Left Unity, of course. I do not, however, deploy the Life of Brian language of the second sentence in this question and have supported standing joint Left Unity-Tusc candidates in the forthcoming national election.
4. I certainly support openness and accountability. On the issue of McCauley’s suspension, I neither condemn it nor support it, as this is the responsibility of the disputes committee - national officers quite correctly have no role in this. I do, however, condemn any failure to respect elementary standards of confidentiality in reporting on the personal circumstances of individuals within Left Unity.
5. Yes to both questions.
6. I do not accept the terms in which this question is posed, but the answer is no. In what sense are the Greens’ politics more petty bourgeois (and what does that mean?) than Labour’s? I am in favour of differentiating between Greens such as Caroline Lucas (one of the most consistently leftwing MPs in parliament) and those who support cuts in services or tougher immigration controls. In Hackney North I will vote for Dianne Abbott, but elsewhere I could vote Green.
7. Yes, in principle, but only if a delegate conference. I agree the constitution is dysfunctional in many respects. But I would not scrap guaranteed quotas for women, as the CPGB would, and I would want to exclude from standing in internal elections CPGB, or any other, members who have failed to pay subs for months and then pay a minimum 50p at the last minute.
Edmund Potts (principal speaker)
In general I welcome opportunities for dialogue and discussion, where all involved have the opportunity to ask questions and debate points. In terms of these elections, I am standing on the basis of my publicly available statement, and, of course, my various other contributions (practical and political) to Left Unity. I think these are sufficient for members of LU to decide whether or not to vote for me.
Phil Pope (treasurer)
I quite agree with you that the national council or executive committee should elect national officers rather than they being directly elected by the membership.
If elected as treasurer I will try to focus on improving the administration of LU, making our finances fully transparent to the membership, and supporting the EC in its work. I am not interested in using the treasurer role to push a particular political view within the EC, as I think the direction of the organisation should come from the proportionally elected members of the NC. The most important thing we can do at the moment is increase the size of LU and encourage a higher level of political debate between members.
1. I think that Britain should remain within the EU. However, I think there are other areas of policy that we should prioritise campaigning on, such as housing, public services, living wage, etc.
2. I’m glad that some members of the AWL are participating in LU, but I disagree with them on many political issues.
3. I am active in building LU, but welcome cooperation with Tusc where possible. I don’t think either LU or Tusc are yet the new mass party that we want, and to write off either organisation at this stage would be counterproductive.
4. I am absolutely in favour of openness and accountability, and suggested a number of improvements to the disputes process to conference. We should have freedom of speech and conduct political debates in public forums, either on the internet or in a paper or newsletter. I don’t know the full details of Laurie McCauley’s suspension, but from what I gather it seems disproportionate at least. I hope he can be reinstated soon.
5. Violence is clearly unacceptable.
6. Whilst I think we need to keep our own distinctive politics, there are many in the Green Party who can be won to a socialist position. Whilst there seems little point in attempting any national agreement with the GP, there may be areas of the country where LU can work alongside Greens and pull them leftward.
7. Many members (including myself) submitted constitutional amendments to the last conference, but, although conference clearly voted that these should be taken, the conference arrangements committee closed the conference without them being taken. Our current organisation is top-heavy and most members have no way of knowing what is happening at a national level.
Nick Wrack (national secretary)
My policies are clearly expressed in my two election statements and in the many articles that I have written on the issue of building a mass socialist party (carried in the Weekly Worker and elsewhere).
Matthew Caygill (national council)
The CPGB list of questions gives us a good opportunity to examine the pathology of this small revolutionary group. To start with the good things: they are clearly in favour of general human liberation, rooted in a tradition drawn from the contribution of the Marxist movement.
However, there is a downside, exemplified by the rather peculiar second question. Is the AWL even in Left Unity? Not where I am. Who is proposing a ‘bloc’ with them? Is this an attack on Workers Power or Socialist Resistance? Who knows, who cares - except those that think the main purpose of Left Unity is a place for small revolutionary groups to fight out their political differences. And that seems to be the CPGB vision.
For the majority of us Left Unity is an attempt to build something that is neither of the discredited, bankrupt, vanguardist left or of a social democracy that has given up in favour of variants of neoliberalism. We want a broad party that is environmentalist, socialist and feminist. We don’t want to provide a site for ‘revolutionaries’ to show off in front of each other, fight it out, maybe pick up a few more members.
And that is precisely what the CPGB want. They are on record as criticising ‘halfway houses’ and calling for the unity of Marxists into one party. If they had the courage of their convictions they would be in Tusc fighting for their beliefs there. The consequence of this is that where they have any strength of numbers life for others in Left Unity is miserable. They drive people away, and they don’t care. Look at Sheffield for confirmation of this. They aren’t in the business of building Left Unity. They wouldn’t particularly care if Left Unity failed - they would relish it as evidence that only their nostrums work.
1. I’ve long been against British withdrawal from the European Union and for working with other lefts towards the transformation of the EU. Syriza’s experiences in the austerity machine of the euro zone is a challenge to this, so I would call for more debate on the question - not the assertion of dogmas or irrelevant abstractions.
3. Of course, I give priority to Left Unity, but we have to work with Tusc - in ways that will strengthen Left Unity.
4. I do support openness and accountability. However, this has to be balanced with confidentiality. I haven’t heard the details of the McCauley case and would only say that our processes have to be timely. However, the Weekly Worker’s reporting is frequently imbalanced and unobjective, teetering into being dishonest and hypocritical, and revealing the CPGB’s bad faith. It’s been a good way to destroy any relationships of trust.
5. I do disassociate from violence and threats, and think establishing some sort of code of conduct is important. Bullying also needs to be considered. The Weekly Worker is an instrument for the bully.
6. I don’t think I’ve got enough words to answer this. The question reveals a very wooden and dogmatic understanding of Marxism. Lenin would have laughed at you. The short answer is: ‘No, the question is stupid.’ Dialectics, not crude binary oppositions, please.
7. I agree that the constitution doesn’t work well - it is designed for a much larger party and has failed to provide a framework for effective leadership. I would keep the gender balance component. So I am not opposed to a constitutional conference, perhaps on the basis of branch delegations. But we need to ensure that branches work fairly.
Will McMahon (principal speaker)
Thank you for your letter. I have described my political position most fully in my LU election statement and the link to articles at the end. That is more than enough in my view.
Pete McLaren (media officer)
I do not think this is the best way to encourage dialogue between the various parts of the left. That is far better done in an open forum without somewhat subjective questions. You are fully aware of my political record and my political activities, in recent years as an officer of Tusc and a national council/executive member of Left Unity.
In these internal elections for LU, I am standing on the statements that have been published officially, and I see no reason to add to those at this point in time.
Tom Walker (media officer)
1. Hello, is it me you’re looking for?
2. Do you believe in life after love?
3. Is there life on Mars?
4. Do you really want to hurt me?
5. How soon is now?
6. What’s love got to do with it?
7. Why does it always rain on me?
Terry Conway (nominating officer)
No, I won’t be answering the Communist Platforms questions. I also think it’s a little strange to suggest that answers to any seven questions would be the sum of anyone’s political positions!
Luke Cooper (NC, London)
1. I’m against the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union. We need to build a pan-European movement of European left parties pushing for a democratic, ecological and socialist Europe. There would be huge and wholly negative implications for EU migrants living here were Britain to leave; not to mention the millions more who would be denied the right to live and work in this country. In the current political context in Britain a ‘progressive’ campaign for an EU exit is a logical and political impossibility. This debate should not be conflated with a Greek exit from the euro zone, but unfortunately it frequently is by left supporters of a British exit from the European Union.
2. I’m against forming a bloc with the AWL in Left Unity. But this is an odd question to ask, given that, as far as I am aware, no one has suggested doing this. I’ve been told that the AWL are calling for a blanket vote for Labour in the general election. They are neither active in Left Unity nor supportive of an alternative to Labour. It’s a non-problem.
3. We need a democratic, grassroots political party of the left - not a lash-up of old sectarian groups without any internal democracy for members and supporters. The Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party have an appalling record on rape and sexual violence and are an obstacle to the building of a radical left party. I voted against seeking unity with Tusc on the local as well as the national level at the November conference.
4. The Weekly Worker is an unserious gossip rag; the CPGB is a rotten Leninist sect. Like the vast majority of Left Unity members I value openness and accountability at every level of the party.
5. No idea what this is referring to.
6. I support the call to back anti-austerity candidates in the election. The Greens are a progressive, anti-austerity party and their policies are much more closely aligned to working class interests than the neoliberal Labour Party. In lieu of a Left Unity candidate, I will be voting for the Greens in Islington South and Finsbury this May. We can combine criticism of the Greens - for example their role on Brighton council - with backing them when they support anti-austerity, working class campaigns.
7. I haven’t heard or read of a specific call for a Left Unity constitutional conference. Amendments are certainly needed to the constitution - for example, to simplify the disputes and appeals procedure and establish a code of conduct for party members - but I assume this can be done at annual conference.
John Tummon (NC, North-West)
1 The EU is a capitalist club that insists that only up to 40% of GDP can be spent on the public sector, but leaving it is the rightwing argument for opposing the EU directive on working hours and various other slightly progressive rulings the right does not like. The SP’s reason for being behind No2EU has now been ditched by its alliance with the SWP in Tusc, so the ‘British jobs for British workers’ rhetoric of Gordon Brown is no longer in play. But we could still work towards international solidarity even outside the EU, so I don’t really care much about the ‘Should we stay or should we go?’ argument between capitalists dependent on the EU for imports and exports and rightwing anti-worker and anti-immigrant sentiment.
2. Not for me, but if they want a tendency, let’s see who supports it.
3. Tusc is a retread of everything that has failed before.
4. The LU leadership must be accountable. I have worked on the appeals committee and found that two comrades should have their suspensions lifted - both contested by the leadership. I will only comment on individual cases I have investigated.
5. No - some behaviour is so bad that it provokes violence either of the word or deed and everything must be assessed by its context. I am not for absolute rules and detest the concept of zero tolerance.
6. No - the Greens have very similar policies to LU; both are broad parties, but LU is far smaller. The Greens are progressive.
7. Depends what is behind the call.
John Penney (NC)
2. This is simply a slanderous misrepresentation of another revolutionary socialist organisation which is also a supporting component part of our Left Unity coalition. How does this sort of sectarian tosh help build a broad, radical, socialist party ?
3. Yes, Tusc is a diversionary project - a front for the SPEW and SWP. But some Tusc supporters do appear to be putting in some good work for Left Unity nevertheless. Is the ‘entrist’ aspect of Tusc supporter participation in our Left Unity project any more dodgy that the ultra-leftist entrist motivation of, for instance, the CPGB and Workers Power comrades?
4. Yes to the first part, and ‘Don’t know enough about this branch dispute’ to the second.
5. Yes, of course - but the particular interpersonal dispute behind this question is an old, petty storm in a teacup that serious socialists need to be mature enough to ‘get over’. Bearing petty grudges forever is a sad feature of far-left sects.
7. No - our constitution may well be unwieldy and flawed, but we really have to just live with it for a while yet, and concentrate on doing real political activity. Endless conferences are the delight only of inveterate far leftie sects.
What about another key question then? Ie,
8. Are you a member of Left Unity for the long term to seriously build a radical left, broadly based mass party, or are you just on a short-term ‘political raid’ to strut your rigid ultra-left political positions for your tiny, ‘revolutionary’, left sect, cause as much disruption as possible within Left Unity, and hope to leave the organisation, or be chucked out, having gained nothing but a handful of extra members from the wreckage?