New generation of debate

Last week Left Unity’s youth caucus has held its first day school. Daniel Harvey reports

The Left Unity youth caucus event, Red Futures, held in central London on August 5, was reasonably well attended. The sessions featured debates on a variety of topics, including Greece and the euro zone crisis, Corbyn and the Labour Party, the Middle East situation and Syria, as well as what post-capitalism will look like. In fact there were too many sessions - the 30-40 comrades who turned up had to choose between parallel meetings for all three time slots. There was also a problem with the sessions on migration and young workers, where in both cases a speaker did not turn up.

The Middle East session had LU national council member Yassamine Mather of Hands Off the People of Iran, together with Marcus Halaby of Workers Power, who spoke about the fallout from the Arab spring, as well as the Iran nuclear deal and what this meant for the region. Comrade Yassamine noted the increasing chaos in the region was a result of the failure of US hegemony, and this in fact represented a kind of US strategy - if it can be called that - to deny power to other regional actors. She saw the nuclear deal as an attempt by the Obama administration to in some way integrate Iran as a regional player, however, and noted this was being resisted strongly by Israel, which sees itself as the US’s most important ally.

Later, a session on the Labour Party saw Jack Conrad of LU’s Communist Platform debate with Richard Seymour and Luke Cooper the meaning of the Corbyn campaign. All speakers agreed that it looked extremely likely Corbyn would win the leadership election, but disagreed about the meaning of this. Comrade Cooper began by saying that he thought the Corbyn campaign should be seen in the same light as the growth of populist leftwing parties on the continent - he mentioned Podemos and Syriza. In fact comrade Cooper has resigned from Left Unity to join Labour, despite being chair of LU’s Camden branch and, like comrade Conrad, a member of its NC. It seems that a number of others have done the same in recent weeks. Comrade Cooper thought that Corbyn should form some sort of alliance with the more centrist Labour MPs in order to establish what he called a new “hegemony”.

Jack Conrad argued for a strategic perspective towards Labour, which he saw as an important site of struggle, whether Corbyn was elected or not. He said that those who had argued that Labour had become a purely bourgeois party were obviously mistaken, but, at the same time, Labour had never been “ours” and so talk of “reclaiming” it was illusory. In any case, there was all to play for in the party. He said that one of the weapons necessary to fight the right wing had been handed to us, thanks to the miscalculated rule changes and decision of some rightwing MPs to ‘lend’ their nominations to Corbyn in order to deflect criticism from Andy Burnham. So far “400,000 people have taken up that weapon and used it”. He said that we needed to infuse the movement around Corbyn with Marxist politics and aim to move Labour far to the left.

Richard Seymour gave a very ineffective speech in comparison, shouting “The Labour Party is dead!” a number of times for emphasis and going on to reiterate the approach that he put forward before Corbyn got into the race in his new magazine, Salvage. Apparently Labour was being “Pasokified” and would inevitably disappear even with Corbyn at the helm. He continued by saying that it was important to be pessimistic and adopt the opposite approach to that of the Socialist Workers Party: look to the “patient building work” that was necessary - by which he meant various forms of activism.

Comrade Seymour was adamant that Left Unity should remain a halfway house party - in contradiction to Jack Conrad, who wanted to equip it with a Marxist programme. Comrade Conrad felt that without this LU would sink into complete irrelevance, whereas Seymour saw LU’s reformist programme as ideal for attracting a section of the people who have followed Corbyn so far, but will need a new home when he is fought off by the right and Labour ‘disappears’.

He thought that Marxist politics was completely premature because there is no rank-and-file working class movement that could make it relevant in this period. I pointed out that his perspective just seemed to reflect a lot of familiar tropes in SWP politics instead of breaking from it - Marxists should be a minority in electoral fronts to attract reformist activists. It also seemed to mirror the old SWP theory of the “downturn”, which in the 1980s meant playing down rank-and-file trade union militancy, particularly in the miners’ strike, in favour of activism, especially of students. Comrade Seymour has given this a kind of fashionable pessimism - except its absurdity has been clearly exposed by the massive upsurge in enthusiasm driven by the Corbyn campaign. For his part, Jack Conrad said he had not been so optimistic in 30 years.


One of the two final sessions featured Aaron Bastani and others discussing post-capitalism and what form it could take. However, I chose instead to attend the parallel session on the euro zone. In this Alan Thornett of Socialist Resistance, as well as Uta Wegner, a speaker from Die Linke, talked about the prospects for the left in Europe.

Both were quite downbeat. Comrade Thornett identified the problem for Syriza resulting in its capitulation and implementation of austerity as being primarily based on its attachment to ‘left Europeanism’ - although he thought that the Thessaloniki programme Syriza had fought on was very radical despite this. Originally, he said, Syriza had put forward this programme on the principle of “not one sacrifice for the euro”. But this changed when in office, where it became clear that Alexis Tsipras and those around him could not actually accept the necessity of real confrontation with the European powers, particularly Germany.

He was criticised multiple times from the floor by one comrade, who thought a more realistic assessment was that Syriza “took power too soon” - it was really a case of old-fashioned opportunism. He said it was very unlikely that Syriza could have gained any meaningful concessions from Europe, even though the party had actually watered down its programme substantially in order to get into power. Syriza had not prepared Greeks for a real confrontation with its creditors, so the population had a lot of illusions, which were shattered by Syriza’s surrender.

Comrade Thornett disagreed with this not surprisingly, saying that it was necessary for left governments to take office to break the grip of neoliberal orthodoxy. For him there was obviously plenty of support for a real struggle in society - this was demonstrated by the very big ‘Oxi’ vote in the referendum. The problem was reducible to the Syriza leadership collapsing under pressure and so betraying the movement in practice. The alternative of seizing control of the banks and setting up some sort of autarkic state outside the euro zone was what comrade Thornett seemed to favour.

Overall the event was interesting enough and saw some good exchanges, including between comrades on the left who do not usually debate with each other, but the unfortunate timing of Red Futures - before students had arrived on campus - as well as the decision to go for parallel sessions and the hitches on the day, made it less effective than it could have been.