Hopes, fears and prospects
The members aggregate on October 26 discussed both Left Unity and the SWP. Michael Copestake reports
As we move closer to the November 30 founding conference of Left Unity as a full, membership-based political organisation, it was John Bridge who surveyed the scene.
Despite the fact that Left Unity has around 700 paid-up members, he observed, it is worth remembering that it is still on a lower level than either the Socialist Alliance or Respect. And that applies to its politics too. In the following discussion Mike Macnair commented that, whereas the SA and Respect drew together, by comparison, politically coherent and organised sections of the left, which allowed both of these groups to punch above their weight, Left Unity will in all likelihood bring together mainly atomised individuals.
We should also note Left Unity’s apparently frail and combustible character, added comrade Bridge. Whereas those previous unity initiatives had problems, given the sectarian behaviour of the larger left groups, LU will be handicapped by the ‘anti-sectarian’ - that is, anti-group - sectarianism of many of its individual members. Some could be described as the “political walking wounded”, burnt by their previous experience at the hands of such groups.
So what are the obstacles making LU unlikely to take off as a type of old Labour formation? In addition to the fact that the actual Labour Party continues to exist and all previous attempts to compete on its terrain have failed, comrade Bridge added that, importantly, we must also consider other UK-specific factors. In the first instance, there has been neither a reconfiguration of a substantial part of the old ‘official communist’ movement into a new party, nor has there been a significant left break from the Labour Party itself which could form the basis for an alternative party formation. (Later Moshé Machover, a visitor at the aggregate and a friend of the CPGB, emphasised the role of proportional representation in those European countries where new parties such as Die Linke and Syriza have achieved some level of success, whereas under the UK system of ‘first past the post’ it is extraordinarily difficult for new parties to break through.)
Comrade Bridge argued that the organised left groups remain on the whole peripheral to the LU project, with the exception of Socialist Resistance, which seems to have an uncanny knack for placing itself at the heart of broad party formations - the fact that it is prepared to abandon what remains of its revolutionism within them partly protects SR from the anti-group sentiment.
Comrade Bridge went on to give his view of the various LU platforms. Workers Power’s Class Struggle Platform outlined not the fundamental aims and principles it called for Left Unity to adopt, but a series of campaigning priorities for the autumn (and we are now fast approaching winter). Essentially another application of the WP interpretation of the ‘transitional method’, concluded comrade Bridge.
The Left Party Platform is clearly the leadership faction, launched pre-emptively. It has since been amended to the left of its initial draft, but remains contradictory and ambiguous - this time in line with SR’s interpretation of the ‘transitional method’.
The CPGB was central to the formation of the new Communist Platform, but it has not withdrawn from the Socialist Platform, despite the obvious failings of the SP with which readers of this paper will be familiar from our recent coverage, and which comrade Bridge recapped for those present. For comrade Bridge the most important thing was that we publicly push the politics of the Communist Platform, which are in effect those of the SP majority, at least as demonstrated by the indicative votes taken at the SP’s September 14 meeting. So in a straight contest between the SP and the LPP the CPGB should support the SP - a sentiment which was echoed by others in the discussion afterwards.
After November 30, he continued, it will be important to consider where to take the Communist Platform, assuming that the Left Unity party actually gets off the ground. It will be important to have staying power, to continue to engage actively with the Socialist Platform, and generally attempt to win others to the need for principled Marxist politics.
Comrade Bridge expressed strong reservations about the ambiguous wording of LU’s proposed constitution in relation to both political dissent and the ‘safe spaces’ policy - similar clauses have been used, for example, in Die Linke in Germany, to bureaucratically move against the left within the party. One clause states that “Caucuses [factions - MC] may not organise public campaigns against the overall aims or policy of the party”,1 which could prove problematic in view of the likely victory of the LPP and its ‘clause four’ Labourism.
In the discussion that followed Bob Paul noted that in parts of Wales LU has drawn some left Labour Party people towards it, creating a small stir in the local Labour left. But Mike Macnair thought it unlikely that this would be widely replicated - 700 LU individual members could not be compared to 700 members of a far-left group. The great irony, he added, is that the organised left has exactly the same illusions as those anti-group individuals in Left Unity: while those individuals believe that it is possible to ignore or bypass the organised far left, most far-left groups believe it is possible to ignore or bypass the other far-left groups.
Comrade Machover criticised the CPGB’s approach to the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty within the Socialist Platform, arguing that it would have been tactically better to have chosen a different moment to attack the AWL rather than the first item of business. He also said the CPGB should see at least some off the ‘independents’ as natural allies.
Yassamine Mather stated that the SP’s anti-imperialism was badly compromised by the presence of the AWL and that it was correct to oppose AWL participation from the start. The AWL’s softness on imperialism was now a potential problem for the SP - a legitimate stick with which its opponents could beat it. Ian Donovan, also a visitor, concurred on the need to immediately act against the AWL’s presence within the SP and added that, in his view, LU is to the right of the old Respect project, giving as an example Kate Hudson’s position on Julian Assange. Mike Macnair stressed that many of the ‘independents’ are not part of a newly radicalising social layer, but veterans of the left.
Peter Manson introduced the discussion on the SWP by reminding comrades that, although the present crisis had originated in a case of alleged rape, the bureaucratic culture of the SWP meant that any serious allegation against a leader could have provoked it.
The roots of that crisis lay in a combination of its anti-democratic internal regime and its programmeless opportunism. The two were actually linked, he said, since the absence of any programme makes it very difficult to hold the leadership to account and allows it to move freely from one opportunistic position to another according to what it believes will bring it short-term gain.
In the discussion Yassamine Mather noted that, despite the seriousness of the rape allegations, ultimately it was the cronyism shown towards the alleged perpetrator that had escalated the crisis so irreversibly. Another comrade noted that the crisis was in a sense the delayed result of the failure of Respect, which, whatever its weaknesses, at least kept the SWP distracted in a major project. Further disintegration seems to be on the cards.
For Christina Black one of the obvious effects of the SWP crisis was to have made the Marxism festival a lot less dull, though she agreed that the SWP is probably heading for a further explosion. In the view of Paul Demarty, Charlie Kimber and Alex Callinicos were half right in blaming movementism, feminism and so on for the seriousness of the crisis - the extreme fad-chasing nature of the SWP led it to adapt itself to such trends.
Comrades were agreed, however, that the SWP crisis was far from over, with many fearing a total implosion. That was not something the CPGB wanted to see, said comrade Manson, as it probably would result in many members either drifting to the right or dropping out of politics altogether. It would represent yet another setback in the struggle to create a single Marxist party.