Ken Loach: early hopes dashed

Join fight to transform Labour

Yassamine Mather points to a key decision facing next month’s Left Unity conference

In the light of Jeremy Corbyn’s spectacular victory and the proposed (be it as yet undefined) relaxing of bans and proscriptions in the Labour Party, it is no secret that Left Unity, like all other halfway houses, is facing a crisis both as a project and as a party.

Some members, including at least a couple of comrades from the current national council, have already left to join Labour, while others are considering doing so, and a number of motions proposed for the November 21-22 national conference on LU’s relationship with the Labour Party reflect this. This will be by far the most important issue facing the conference and I will not be exaggerating if I said that the future of the party depends on the outcome of this debate.

That is why the Communist Platform is proposing to the standing orders committee that we should devote an entire day to this debate. Should this proposal be accepted, we are prepared to withdraw all our other motions for day one. However, the second day of conference is devoted to LU’s constitution, including a code of conduct, and we still believe that addressing these issues is necessary to make Left Unity a viable force on the British left.

Regarding the actual debate on the relationship with Labour, let me start by clarifying that the CP is in favour of maintaining Left Unity as an organisation, but it should be a party that aims to unite the radical left on a clear programme for revolutionary change, socialism and internationalism. In this respect our proposal that LU should apply to become an affiliate of the Labour Party is not liquidationist: on the contrary, it represents a rational solution to the current situation. Under such an arrangement, Left Unity would, like the Cooperative Party, “remain a separate political party … which has an electoral agreement with Labour”.1

Our motion is clearly in contrast to those proposing converting LU into a think tank or official and unofficial proposals to disband and join Labour as LU individuals. The disastrous history of Trotskyist entrism should be a lesson for anyone considering such a move.

The idea that political activism on its own - in, out or around Labour - will change the political scene is also misleading. The fate of Occupy and similar movements should tell us that. Those who believe that it is the job of the radical left to concentrate on organising demonstrations and protests, like this week’s events around the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, while Labour’s new supporters and members will move the party to the left, are profoundly mistaken. Helping these new recruits fight the right wing and defeat the current onslaught by the media will require intervention and organisation. Otherwise many of the younger members of this new anti-austerity movement will become disillusioned because of the right’s bureaucratic control of many Constituency Labour Parties and could drift out of politics altogether. Those who hope that such disillusionment, combined with dissatisfaction with the predictable compromises of the Corbyn/McDonnell leadership, will see those new recruits turning instead to the existing organisations of the left are also mistaken.

The rhetoric of many of the ‘movementists’ may be left-sounding, but their analysis of Labour is often sadly mistaken. We should argue strongly against those who believe Labour can be ‘reclaimed’ - as though it was once ours. Labour has always been a bourgeois workers’ party: a constitutionalist organisation that, at best, has sought the gradual redistribution of wealth. The battle to transform it cannot be left in the hands of the new leadership; nor will it come through the momentum of demonstrations and protests organised from within, outside or on the fringes of Labour. It can only happen if the radical left, including those currently organised in Left Unity, make a concerted strategic effort to fight for that transformation, so that the party can become an instrument of the working class, fighting for international socialism.

Clearly that is rather different from the Keynesianism proposed by Corbyn/McDonnell. However, even this moderate approach is currently under attack by the right and adding yet another think-tank to the plethora already existing on the centre-left will not help. That is why we will argue against the motion proposed by comrades Pete Green, Salman Shaheen, Tom Walker and others. This proposes:

(a) Left Unity dissolve itself as a political party which contests elections at any level.

(b) Those present reconstitute ourselves as a Left Unity Network of activists and supporters who are committed to the principles and policies contained in our founding documents and to support for the various campaigns and struggles which correspond to those principles. This network would be open to both members of the Labour Party and those who choose to remain outside it.

The unity of the radical left inside and outside Labour to launch a new radical movement supported and maintained by a radical party committed to Marxism would not only strengthen the left around the Corbyn/McDonnell leadership, but is essential for us too.

There is a danger that groups on the left will spend the next four and a half years campaigning for a Labour government from the outside, with some excusing and accepting all the likely U-turns and compromises of the new leadership. The left has a duty to remind the working class that a Labour government committed to managing the capitalist crisis through fairer taxation and distribution of revenue, through reversing some aspects of austerity and reducing underconsumption - all under the current constitutional monarchy state - will not solve their problems.

For all the above reasons, the slogan chosen to build the LU conference is correct. Corbyn’s election presents “new opportunities, new challenges” for Left Unity. However, if we are to survive as a party of the radical left, a party that distinguishes itself from constitutionalist Labourism, we must have policies clearly to the left of social democracy. Otherwise the LU project, as with all other halfway house attempts to recreate the Labour Party, will clearly be doomed - all the more so following the Corbyn victory.

Our motion, together with a number of others, also recognises the fact that in order to win the battle in the Labour Party the left will need to undertake major organisational change. As we state,

… political principles and organisational forms go hand in hand. The Labour Party must become the umbrella organisation for all trade unions, socialist groups and pro-working class partisans. Towards this end Left Unity will demand the complete elimination of all undemocratic bans and proscriptions and will seek to affiliate to the Labour Party.

We also support the following tasks relating to Labour set out in the motion proposed by Lambeth:

1. Reversing the purge of would-be members and opening the doors of the party to all who support the ideas of socialism.

2. Restoring the LP conference to a decision-making body, with its decisions binding on the leadership and the PLP.

Of course, all of this will also require the affiliation or reaffiliation of trade unions such as the RMT, FBU and PCS. That is connected to the fight to democratise the trade unions and consequently the way they intervene within Labour. Their votes at Labour conferences cannot be left to the whim of the unions’ top leaders, but must be cast proportionately, according to the political balance in each delegation.



1. www.labour.org.uk/pages/affiliated-organisations.