Left Luggage

The socialist strategy site

Leftovers #12 – Left (dis)unity and more on the equality debate

Posted by Left Luggage on June 29, 2009

Can the various Left parties, sects and groupuscules unite around a basic socialist programme in time for the General Election next year? Are they at all likely to attract electoral support if they do?

Judging by the responses to the Socialist Workers’ Party’s open letter to the Left, the first question is unlikely to be answered in the affirmative.

Unlike the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty – who responded immediately by requesting talks with the SWP over the creation of a Left coalition – the Socialist Party probably feels it is in a position of strength vis-a-vis other Left groups at the moment. As one of the players in No2EU, the SP has formed links with the RMT, and hopes to be part of an platform involving Crow’s union at the next General Election. On the industrial front, the SP plays a central role in the National Shops Stewards Network, which held a sucessful conference at the weekend. Leading shop stewards in the high profile union victories at Enfield,  Swansea and Lindsey were all SP members.

Confidence shines through in the SP’s reply, but so does its distaste for the SWP’s previous conduct. The first section of the reply is spent addressing the SWP’s failure to acknowledge the formation of No2EU (mentioned only twice in Socialist Worker). “To try to ignore the existence of an initiative as significant as No2EU undermines your stated aim of opening a discussion on creating an electoral alternative for the general election”, it says, before concluding:

Unfortunately, we believe that your brushing aside of No2EU is an indication that your methods have not changed. You claim that: “Unity is not a luxury. It is a necessity” but as a party you have never been prepared to countenance working together with others in an honest and open fashion unless you hold the reins; hence your wrecking of the Socialist Alliance and your splitting from Respect. Far from playing a positive role, your approach has actually complicated and delayed steps towards a new mass workers’ party in England and Wales.

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On the threat from the BNP, referred to many times in the SWP letter, the SP reply pointedly states: “the BNP will not be undermined just by campaigns denouncing them as Nazis”. This is surely a reference to the tactics of the SWP-lead Unite Against Fascism.

Although it is less strident in its tone, the reply from libertarian communist group The Commune makes some similar points to the SP’s message. The Commune seeks an assurance that its members will not have to go through the same experience that many of them did with the Socialist Alliance: “to have a project we have built tossed aside when the leading faction finds something more interesting to do.”

Significantly, The Commune goes beyond the SP in questioning the fundamental organising strategies of the far Left:

We also want to be clear that when we talk about left unity, we do not mean simply left unity at elections, or anti-fascist mobilisations.  What we are talking about, what we all need to talk about, is deep, thoroughgoing political work in communities, in which socialists join together locally, with trade unionists, community campaigners and across the political boundaries of the existing groups.

The Commune advocates coaltions and alliances on a local basis, and a commitment to the “sort of work that can be done to build community and workers’ resistance at a local level, not only in the next year, but in the next decade.”

Solidarity, the splinter from the Scottish Socialist Party lead by Tommy Sheridan, has put out its own assessment of the situation, which includes a call for Left unity. Their limited proposal for the Left to “unify in a temporary electoral pact or coalition” (in time for the Glasgow North East by election caused by the resignation of Michael Martin) does not mention the SWP. Solidarity argues that, rather than construct some new Scottish version of the Socialist Alliance, the Left should support “candidates that may be acceptable to all the different groups on the left whether they be a trade unionist, a community activist or a well known local campaigner.”

It seems, therefore, that the major factions on the British Left, while all expressing a desire for “unity”, have very different ideas about the way forward. Prospects for an all-encompassing broad left front seem remote.

How much support would such a platform receive in a national election? One thing the SWP got right in their letter is that the Euro elections were a disaster for the Left. But how much of this is down to strategic errors from Left groups, and how much can be attributed to a conservative public mood?

As we wrote last week, the authors of a major report on attitudes to inequality concluded that there was broad acceptance of the capitalist system. Some disagreed with this interpretation of the findings. Directionless Bones developed our argument that the report showed the need for the Left to adjust its language, arguing that socialists should propose a form of economic organisation where production is owned by workers and remuneration decided by workers’ councils. This suggestion, the author argues, is likely to receive more support from workers’ than a call for immediate abolition of wages and equality of consumption.

The post is rescued from the realms of abstract theoretical debate with a passage discussing the short term tactical lessons of the report’s insights:

[I]t is possibly politically counter-productive to be seen as advocating on behalf of ‘the poor’, or to identify ‘working class’ with ‘low-income’ (as many people habitually do). Most people do not identify with ‘the poor’, even when they are – and in the terms of standard class analysis it’s not even true that the poor are the revolutionary candidate. Rather, it’s the ‘working class’ – i.e. people who get paid a wage for doing productive work, which is a large majority of the population. Socialists should aim to present socialism as these people running things for themselves, and getting rid of ‘the top’.

A post from Le Samovar also endorses our argument that the report is not such bad news for the Left, but that we need to change our language to focus more on “fairness and freedom” than equality as such. Le Samovar relates these ideas to Michael Albert’s prescriptions on parecon, which seem to allow for a degree of “fair inequality”.


2 Responses to “Leftovers #12 – Left (dis)unity and more on the equality debate”

  1. Bob said

    Has the SWP even bothered to reply to the AWL’s welcome of their letter? It’s looking like the SWP’s new unity initiative will be them and the AWL eh? Somehow I don’t think the SWP would like that much.

    Anyway, to my mind, The Commune’s response is probably the best. It chimes with my view, similar to one you have expressed here in the past, that we need to start from below and not above, with unity around concrete struggles, not artificial electoral alliances.

  2. Hi Bob.

    Yes indeed. Neither the SWP’s letter, nor any of the responses save the Commune’s, made any reference to the more fundamental problems with the Left.


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