Monday, 31 March 2014

Left Unity is doomed to fail



There's certainly debate
Last Saturday a new socialist party, Left Unity, founded on the call for a new voice for leftists, met for it’s first policy conference. By all accounts it was as productive as all left wing splinter groups tend to be; the day before the conference the party still wasn’t sure who would be attending, whilst they debated on policies to disband the army in favour of ‘arming the people’; the conference itself was an omnishambles of unorganised motion debates and internal elections.

There is an unwritten rule in politics that nothing is inevitable until it happens, however I think it’s necessary to make a special exception for Left Unity – this organisation is doomed to fail. Despite pretense of being modern and dynamic, Unity is merely a hangover of Militant Tendency, which plagued the electoral efforts of sensible left in the 1980s and thus paved Margaret Thatcher’s path to power.

Indeed, you only have to look at the 1983 election to understand why the left faired so dismally when divided. The vote was divided between a variety of parties whose names were permutations of the words ‘revolutionary’, ‘independent’, ‘communist’ and ‘militant’. Certainly no way to do politics.

In an interview on Daily Politics, one of Unity’s principle speaker, the ever charismatic Salman Shaheen, was asked whether the party’s aim was to fight against the Labour party or pull it to the left. His reply was an exacerbating “both”, ignorantly defying a paradox; in the Labour party, there’s no room at the table for those who stand candidates against it. This was why the RMT union was expelled from the Labour family. If Left Unity take Labour voters who are further on the left, then it will simply make the party more centre-ground. In my opinion, this isn’t so much a bad thing though.

The reason for the founding of Left Unity goes back to the film director Ken Loach’s call for a new political party of the working class to compete against the Labour party for those votes. I’m a big fan of Loach’s work; a particular favourite of mine is a film called ‘Land and Freedom’ on the Spanish Civil War (an area in which I have intense interest), about a fictional young socialist from Liverpool who goes to Spain to fight for the Republic against the right-wing rebels.

As such, Ken Loach should understand better than anyone else how damaging it is when left-wing groups splinter away from each other. The reason the progressive forces in Spain lost the Spanish Civil War to the Nationalists was because of division amongst left and centrist groups. The main groups included the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party) who were in tense coalition with the PCE (Spanish Communist Party) and the left Republicans (also in conflict with liberal Republicans), but opposed the POUM (Marxist Unification Worker’s Party) as well as the Anarchists, who didn’t like the POUM also. Confused yet? Most of Spain certainly was at the time.

There’s a particularly poignant part in the film where PSOE and POUM militants are fighting each other in Barcelona. An old woman gets caught up in the crossfire and, exacerbated at the infighting, shouts at the militants “shouldn’t you be fighting Franco?”

I would replace the word ‘Franco’ with ‘the Tories’ and say the very same to Loach’s Left Unity group. With so much at stake in 2015, we can’t risk losing like we did in 1983 because we weren’t really sure what strand of socialism we wanted to offer the public. Labour has already pushed the boundaries of palatable left populism – with policies like the energy price freeze – so that we can still appeal to the middle classes, whose vote are so crucial for victory. Left Unity’s constitution looks more like a new ‘longest suicide note in history’ than a genuine political program for change.

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