Over the next two and a half months, a fundamental debate will be run among some hundreds of left activists, most of them at present politically homeless and looking for a way forward.
At the founding conference on 30 November of the Left Unity group, the main debate will be between the "Left Party Platform" (LPP), proposed by Kate Hudson and others, and the "Socialist Platform" (SP), proposed by Nick Wrack, Soraya Lawrence, Will McMahon, Chris Strafford, Cat Rylance, and others.
Former Socialist Worker journalist Tom Walker, now a member of the SWP-splinter ISN, explains his support for the LPP in these terms: "The Left Party Platform stands explicitly in the 'European Left Party' tradition, encompassing parties like Greece's Syriza, Germany's Die Linke, Portugal's Left Bloc, France's Front de Gauche...
"We're told that it's a statement that almost anyone to the left of Labour could agree with. Yes — exactly! That's the point!" The LPP's proposed political basis is, as Walker puts it, "inclusive of socialism", but not explicitly socialist.
The (rather manipulative, but also very unrealistic) philosophy behind this approach is that masses of people can be inveigled into left-wing politics, or at least into voting for a new leftish electoral effort, by offering them something just a bit to the left of Labour but vague enough not to startle them.
The SP people, some of whom have in the past been involved in other projects based on a similar philosophy (Respect, TUSC, etc.), declare, on the contrary, that any worthwhile left-wing project must clearly declare itself socialist and working-class from the start, and look to building up through patient activity to convince working-class people rather than catchpenny schemes for instant electoral glory.
The SP met on 14 September in London. It was a difficult meeting, but we got through it. The scene is now set for arguing the issues among people attracted to Left Unity over the next two and a half months.
The core numbers are not large. So far the LPP has 140 signatories and the SP 106. At its national coordinating meeting on 7 September Left Unity was told by a central organiser, Andrew Burgin, that LU membership "ran into hundreds". No more precise figure could be elicited, despite the story from the Burgin camp in LU that LU can quickly become a British equivalent of Syriza or Die Linke.
Even those hundreds include some who are not activists, but have just clicked on a website to pay a nominal amount. But there are said to be another 9,000 who have clicked on the Left Unity website to express some level or another of interest. The challenge facing the SP is to reach out to them.
Some people at the 14 September meeting spoke about that. Ruth Cashman of Lambeth LU said that so far the LPP has been able to build an image of being more "outward-looking" than the SP. As well as arguing the general issues, SP supporters should argue in their LU groups for practical and principled proposals for week-to-week activity. Matt Hale of Sheffield LU spoke about the need to link up with trade-union struggles.
Most of the time was taken up with other things. The meeting opened with a wrangle about rival agendas. It then debated a proposal, put jointly by the Weekly Worker group and Ian Donovan (ex-member of the WW group, and ex-member of many other groups too), to expel AWL members from the SP on the grounds that we are "pro-imperialist"!
The quality of their bill of indictment can be judged from the fact that it included the claim that the AWL supports the USA bombing Syria. The issue of Solidarity on sale at that very meeting carries a headline: "Against US bombs" [in Syria].
Replying to the WW/ Donovan proposal, Ruth Cashman pointed out that only a couple of months ago Tina Becker of the WW group had proposed to her, Ruth, that AWL and WW cooperate in starting a left platform within Left Unity. This report caused outcry among the WW people, subsiding into the claim that it was just "something said in a pub".
If only the WW arguments had reached the level of drunken pub gossip...
WW had made an all-out mobilisation for the meeting, but their proposal was defeated by 28 votes against the 15 they had from themselves and some ex-members like Donovan.
Some time was then taken up with amendments from WW to the Socialist Platform text. The meeting had already decided only to discuss and take "indicative" votes on these, since it is scarcely practicable to amend the platform on which the political battle is being fought in Left Unity midway through the process to the November conference.
Most of the amendments were literary and textual, and some unobjectionable. I and others abstained in the vote on most of them. One amendment did help, by sparking a little discussion on Europe.
The next major round of elections in Britain, May 2014, includes the European Parliament elections. The RMT and some of the left (SP) will probably push a "No2EU" slate again, as in 2009. UKIP will be prominent. The SWP and the Socialist Party will be vowing that they will vote for "Britain out" if the much-talked-about referendum on EU membership comes.
Refreshingly, no-one in the Socialist Platform meeting dissented from the argument that a capitalist Britain outside the EU is no advance on a semi-united capitalist Europe; that a capitalist Europe with newly-raised barriers between nations is a step backwards even from a bureaucratically semi-united capitalist Europe; that our answer to the bureaucratically semi-united capitalist Europe is not to seek a break-up into walled-off nation-states, but to strive, through cross-border workers' unity, and a common struggle to level up standards, towards a workers' united Europe.
Left Unity has a "policy workshop conference" (a non-voting affair) in Manchester on 28 September, and a caucus there will be the next get-together of SP supporters. The main task in the next two and a half months is to get life into the local LU groups and argue the case that nothing less than explicitly socialist and working-class politics can serve as a response to the current turmoil of capitalism.
- Longer report of the 14 Sep LU SP meeting, by Pete McLaren
- The Socialist Platform: what it is, and how to sign up for it
- How to join Left Unity and register for the 30 November conference
- Nick Wrack explains the Socialist Platform
- Click here for Pete McLaren's report (as ever, comprehensive and careful) from Left Unity's 7 September National Coordinating Group meeting.
- Documents from when the WW group flipped out in 2008, accusing AWL of favouring an Israeli nuclear strike on Iran.