A contradictory formation
Bob Davies of Labour Party Marxists regrets that some ‘revolutionaries’ support the careers of career politicians and oppose republican and democratic demands
Labour Left Alliance’s organising group held its monthly meeting on July 11 and, as usual, it had a packed agenda with precious little time for considered debate. That said, all comrades who wished to speak, including minorities, were able to do so.
There were two main issues of contention. Firstly, LLA’s approach to Labour’s national executive committee elections. Secondly, the Organising Group’s political statement to be presented to our second conference in August.
The Centre Left Grassroots Alliance - an umbrella for at least 13 organisations - including Momentum, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Labour Representation Committee and Jewish Voice for Labour - has drawn up a slate of six candidates. Par for the course for the CLGA, negotiations happened in secret. The LLA had applied for representation on the CLGA but has not even received any acknowledgement. Presumably LLA is considered far too leftwing.
A number of comrades argued - quite rightly - that what is needed are candidates who stand on a principled, pro-socialist, anti-capitalist platform; who are committed to campaign, consistently, to democratise the Labour Party, as well as a commitment to speak out against the witch-hunt and fight for those who have been expelled or suspended. Some comrades argued that, for example, Yasmin Dar and Ann Henderson have not shown the slightest backbone during their time on the NEC. LLA secretary Tina Werkmann drew attention to the fact that the CLGA slate includes Nadia Jama - who supported the undemocratic Momentum constitution imposed by owner Jon Lansman in January 2017. Jama also supported the recently defeated Lansmanite Momentum Renewal faction. How can the left promote and win progressive politics, the comrade argued, by calling for a vote for such a candidate?
Different approaches were presented about how the LLA could promote its politics during the course of the NEC elections. They included putting forward the LLA’s own slate, with candidates standing on the organisation’s ‘Action programme for the left’;1 standing three LLA candidates in addition to the CLGA’s slate, again on the LLA’s own platform; or simply accepting the CLGA’s slate and advising on an appropriate voting ‘ranking’ for each candidate. Comrade Stan Keable from Labour Party Marxists argued that the overriding consideration is to be able to openly question and criticise all left candidates. We can offer anyone critical support, he asserted, but anyone who politically compromises on an agreed platform should not be put forward as the ‘better’ candidate and should be ranked accordingly. Quite right too.
Although concerns were raised that the LLA standing its own candidates would be splitting the left vote, the majority agreed that this would not be the case, given the single transferable vote system. It was agreed that the LLA would, where possible, promote public hustings. The LLA will also send an open letter to candidates asking for their views. This would encourage transparency and accountability.
The next item on the agenda highlighted the political weaknesses of the LLA. Kevin Bean had been asked to draw up a draft political statement. Acknowledging that there would be differences about the wording, terminology and more importantly the politics, the comrade stressed the importance of raising democratic and republican demands, so as to challenge the state and advance working class interests.
Several comrades argued that the statement was “ultra-leftist”. Although supposedly agreeing, in principle, with the democratic demand for the abolition of the standing army, Dave Hill, Brighton LLA, pleaded that many people were coming to the Labour Party from “a social democratic background.” Raising such demands - at the present time - would put them off. The aim of achieving a classless, stateless, moneyless society was also considered extremist by some. Instead they wanted “collective ownership” of the means of production - code, it seems, for state capitalism and the continuation of wage-slavery. There were even objections to the demand for a republic! Presumably calling for the abolition of the monarchy will put off royalists.
Given time limitations, it was agreed that no vote would be taken and a working group, including comrades Bean and Keable, will carry out further drafting. However, minorities will have the right to present conference with their own statement/platform and we have no intention of watering down principled positions, let alone removing republican, democratic and socialist demands.
In moving Brighton’s own motion, comrade Hill argued that the LLA should draw up various “transitional demands”, which he said the organisation needed to adopt in order to attract and advance working class interests. He did not define what he meant by “transitional demands”, but you can bet they would centre around matters such as the national health service and education. They certainly do not include “maximum/minimum demands”, which the comrade stated he implacably opposed. Of course, in and of themselves, demands to defend past gains and achieve new advances are unobjectionable. But the role of socialists, if they really are socialists, is to map out a strategy which can realistically take the working class to state power. Of necessity that means breaking the existing constitution. The idea that you can achieve socialism without overthrowing the constitutional monarchy, judge-made law, the standing army, the police force and the secret state is risible. To call that perspective “ultra-leftist” is crass, a surrender to the narrowest economism and a betrayal of socialism.
Anyway, the meeting decided not to take a vote on the motion, preferring it to be debated at next month’s conference.
LPM presented a motion on the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey from Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet:
The LLA Organising Group rejects the call for the reinstatement of Rebecca Long-Bailey into Starmer’s shadow cabinet, which was included in the statement issued by the Steering Committee on June 28.
The place for socialist MPs is on the backbenches, acting as the extreme opposition, directing their fire against Labour’s pro-capitalist front bench, acting as tribunes of the people, championing extra-parliamentary struggles and the necessity of replacing the rule of the capitalist class by the rule of the working class - socialism.
We oppose the participation of socialist MPs in capitalist governments, and likewise oppose socialist MPs being members of shadow cabinets which do not challenge the rule of capitalism.
As Keir Hardie famously said in 1910, we need Labour MPs, “not to keep governments in office or to turn them out, but to organise the working class into a great, independent political power to fight for the coming of socialism”.
At the prompting of comrade Werkmann the self-criticism was voted down - as if the LLA cannot correct its own political mistakes. But it was the subsequent debate and final vote that really exposed the contradictory nature of the LLA.
There are those ‘revolutionaries’ who believe that, as the Labour Party is at present a ‘reformist’ party, it can never change. As ‘revolutionaries’ they see their role as putting forward reasonable ‘reformist’ demands. That includes promoting the careers of leftish-talking career politicians such as RLB. Then there are the reformists by conviction. Above all, they want to see the back of the Tory government and its replacement by any Labour government. They see their role as holding Keir Starmer to the economic policies of the 2019 general election manifesto. Promoting the careers of career politicians such as RLB is the very stuff of politics for them.
For LPM, on the other hand, it is a hard and fast principle that no socialist should join a capitalist government. That includes the shadow government headed by Sir Keir. Rebecca Long-Baily calls herself a ‘socialist’ - a claim that is impossible to take seriously. While she, or anyone else, in the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs still calls themself a socialist, we should be demanding neither their promotion nor their reinstatement. No, they should have nothing to do with the pro-capitalist shadow cabinet. Their task should be acting as an extreme opposition within Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
The LPM motion was defeated by 14 votes to 9.