Strategic bankruptcy confirmed
Localists score a practical victory. A directionless leadership blows it with Momentum. Communist Platform makes its final bow. Jack Conrad reports on an eventful February 20 meeting of the LU national council
Only 19 NC members attended the Birmingham meeting. A disappointing turnout, but then Left Unity is at an advanced stage of organisational and political decomposition.
The main debate centred on elections and the relationship with Momentum and the Labour Party. Leaving aside the Communist Platform minority on the extreme left, there were two opposed camps.
The first camp was fronted by Richard Farnos - Croydon Left Unity and LGBT caucus. His motion maintains that, with Momentum excluding members of other parties, it is set to become “just another internal lobby inside the Labour Party”. This will make defeat for an already weak, embattled and ineffective Corbyn leadership “more likely”.
The operative conclusion being that LU should reverse the decision of the November 2015 national conference to put election work on hold. Actually the agreed resolution was a classic bureaucratic fudge: it means different things to different people. Suspending “national election” work left the door wide open for those who wish to interpret it as business as usual when it comes to local elections.
The Farnos motion not only declared that branches “shall be free” to field candidates against the Labour Party in this year’s local elections. It went a step further. Westminster by-elections will be considered too - if the branch is committed, if the NC approves.
The second camp was fronted by Doug Thorpe - Haringey Left Unity and one of the London region reps. Basically he fielded two killer amendments:
1. Momentum’s local membership criteria is “not yet clear”.
2. “Until the next national conference, Left Unity will not stand candidates in national, regional or local elections.”
The comrade wants to establish a friendly working relationship with Momentum. Anything interpreted by the Labour left as a hostile act should therefore be avoided. LU’s election work has never been marked by success. Hence, the best thing for LU to do is bide its time and concentrate on campaigning work.
The debate showed an NC divided down the middle.
Those backing the Farnos motion included Felicity Dowling, LU’s sole remaining principal speaker. Despite occupying a crucial national position, her contribution focused almost entirely on her native Liverpool. Various Labour councillors are awful when it comes to the cuts. The mayor is even worse. The same localist spirit informed comrades Sharon McCourt, Mathew Caygill, Stephen Hall and Pete McLaren. There was a corresponding tendency to downplay developments in the Labour Party and to write off Momentum. Eg, the Labour Party has not changed and Jeremy Corbyn is trapped in a bureaucratic machine dominated by the right. A number of comrades hoped that when Corbyn “predictably falls” there will be a mass influx into Left Unity.
Jack Conrad disagreed. Political strategy begins with international and national tasks, circumstances and interests. Not blinkered individual experience and petty local concerns.
True, Momentum has been unclear about who can be a member. However, the fact that Jill Mountford, a prominent member of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, was elected onto Momentum’s national committee, speaks for itself (true, she has since been expelled from the Labour Party by the right-dominated compliance unit, but an appeal to the NEC will surely follow). Moreover, it was both inevitable and politically correct for Momentum to adopt a clear Labour Party orientation. It is foolish to write off Momentum. It has not even had its founding conference.
As for the Labour Party, of course it has changed. Historically the Labour right has studiously built up the Bonapartist powers of the leader. Corbyn is now using that extraordinarily elevated vantage point against a right which is demonstrably on the back foot. Eg, Momentum supporters swept the board in elections for Young Labour’s leadership. Moreover, Labour’s membership has doubled in size. Every constituency Labour Party is now a battleground. The right in the Parliamentary Labour Party knows that if it triggered a leadership contest, no matter who they stood, their candidate would be utterly crushed and humiliated.
A number of supporters of the Thorpe amendments admitted that much of what Jack Conrad said was accurate. Amongst them Andrew Burgin, national treasurer, and Terry Conway of Socialist Resistance. Moreover, these comrades were adamant: Left Unity is not a loose federation - localism is a recipe for disaster. Kate Hudson, national secretary, adopted a rather more diplomatic tone. But she too favoured the Thorpe amendments.
When it came to the vote, there was some considerable confusion. At first it appeared that the Farnos motion had succeeded. Albeit by a single vote. But, after the chair, Fred Leplat, agreed that the politics involved ought to be clarified, the scales tipped. There were eight votes for the Farnos motion and nine for the Thorpe amendments. Jack Conrad and Yassamine Mather abstained.
Somewhat bizarrely we then saw a coming together of the localist faction and the leadership faction around the localist agenda: LU will back anti-cuts candidates against Labour! Hence LU members simultaneously bar themselves from Momentum, while not reaping the rewards of public name recognition. Surely the worst of both possible worlds. Once again Jack Conrad and Yassamine Mather abstained.
The NC then arrived at the motion submitted in the name of comrades Conrad and Mather on behalf of the Communist Platform. Both of us spoke.
LU models itself on Europe’s soft left anti-austerity parties. But there can be no middle course between a capitalism in crisis and a historically delayed socialism. Such projects are bound to come to grief. Moreover, LU was founded on the false assumption that Labour had become virtually indistinguishable from the Tories and Lib Dems.
The November 2015 national conference woefully failed to undertake a radical reorientation. That despite the abject capitulation of Syriza and the stunning success of Corbyn.
Therefore our call for an emergency national conference.
As expected, the Communist Platform motion lost. There were two votes in favour, one abstention and 16 against.
Because of this final declaration of strategic bankruptcy, I made a brief statement. Our four members of the NC are resigning from LU with immediate effect. We urge all Communist Platform members to follow suit. As for the Communist Platform, with the prior agreement of its steering committee, it is now dissolved.
While comrade Mathew Caygill welcomed our decision to resign, other comrades were much more generous. In turn we made the point that, though our engagement with LU is at an end, it had many positive features.
Left Unity modelled itself on soft-left anti-austerity organisations, such as Die Linke, Syriza and Podemos. This went hand in hand with claims that the Labour Party was irreformable, had to all intents and purposes become just another capitalist party, etc. The operative conclusion being that there was a wide space on the left of the Labour Party for an organisation committed to the ‘spirit of 45’.
Because of the victory of Jeremy Corbyn, because of the decision of Momentum to emphasise internal battles and changing the Labour Party, because of the decision of Momentum to bar members of organisations which stand candidates against Labour, it is clear that Left Unity is now hopelessly adrift strategically.
Since the foundation of Left Unity, national conferences have voted down motions sponsored by the Communist Platform that in their totality would have provided the vital elements of a Marxist programme. The last national conference soundly rejected the Communist Platform’s perspective of fighting for affiliation to the Labour Party and transforming the Labour Party: ie, into a permanent united front of the working class. The last national conference also soundly rejected moves to reorganise Left Unity so as to base it on the principles of democratic centralism.
At the last national council meeting we were informed that only national conference can alter Left Unity policy. That between conferences the national council exists merely to implement agreed policy (this was in the context of debating our attitude towards the EU referendum: ie, the call for an active boycott was in effect ruled out of order).
Hence, if Left Unity is to have any worthwhile future, an emergency national conference must be called as a matter of extreme urgency. The emergency national conference must happen within one month. To ensure the maximum attendance of Left Unity members, the emergency conference should be held in London.
There should be three main items on the agenda.
1. Labour: The existing attitudes towards the Labour Party and Momentum were always mistaken. Fudging on whether or not to stand candidates against Labour is no longer sustainable. Left Unity should join those calling for the Labour Party to change its rules so as to once again allow political parties of the working class to affiliate. Left Unity must commit itself to radically democratising the Labour Party and equipping it with a genuine socialist programme (not a revival of the old clause-four state capitalism).
2. Organisation: Left Unity must be reorganised on the basis of the principles of democratic centralism: ie, unity in action, freedom of criticism. As part of that, the direct election of principal speakers, media officer, national secretary, treasurer, etc, would be ended. National conference would elect the national council and the national council would appoint and replace officers as it sees fit.
3. Programme: Left Unity must arm itself with a Marxist programme: ie, something along the lines of the classic minimum-maximum programmes of the German Social Democratic Party, French Workers’ Party, the Russian Social Democratic Party, etc.
On behalf of Communist Platform