The Perils of Unity.

8 07 2013

Eric Chester continues the debate on left Unity.

The Crisis of Capitalism has led to a polarisation of political viewpoints, as a widening segment of the working class feels the devastating impact of the downturn in decreasing wages and benefits, and the rapid deterioration of social services. The Labour party has failed to meaningfully respond to the crisis,  having become yet another electoral machine, tacking and maneuvering with no goal beyond taking power,  and distributing patronage. As the disillusionment with the Labour Party deepens, a substantial number of working people are ready for an alternative to mainstream politics.

The right wing has already gained support, as can be seen in terms of a sharp rise in the UKIP vote with its populist appeal to nationalism and xenophobia. In this context it is understandable that there has been a push toward left unity. The most salient case in point, the creation of Left Unity, sparked by Ken Loach’s nostalgic documentary chronicling the welfare state of the late 1940’s.  Left Unity does not claim to be a Socialist organisation.  Its claim is to reform capitalism by reviving the welfare state,  a goal to be attained by pressuring the establishment.  In many respects, left Unity is a throw back to the early days of the Labour Party.  In the 1890’s, the Independent Labour Party made the conscious decision to submerge their perspective of a gradual road to socialism into a broader party, promoting Social reform, one that would not be socialist , but would have  links to the trade unions.

In acting as a catalyst in the formation of the Labour Party, the ILP made the mistake of assuming the new party would be soon won to Socialism. The ILP recognised the failure of this position when it left the labour party in the 1930’s.  Wave after wave of socialists has entered the Labour Party only to be swallowed up or spit out.  In the current period,  in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the 1930’s,  and the decline of Britain as a world power, social reformers can at best hope to slow down the spiral downward in the working class’s standard of living.

Socialists should only participate in electoral politics in order to advance a perspective that starts with the necessity of a revolutionary transformation of Society.  Furthermore, electoral politics should be viewed as subordinate to direct action in the workplace and community.  Fundamental change will not occur through the electoral area.  From this underlying perspective,there is no compelling reason for socialists to join a political movement based on winning elections and a liberal critique of Capitalist Society.  Such a movement  will only serve to move revolutionaries into the mainsteam, and nostaligia to recreate  a welfare state,  away from a commitment to Socialist Politics.

Certainly, everything else being equal, unity is better than disunity. Neverthe less, genuine unity can only occur when there is agreement on fundamental principles. The level of agreement required to participate in the creation of a political party is considerably greater than that needed for joint activity within a single issue campaign. The disagreements between those leading left unity and revolutionaries is one that reflects differences in perspectives. The left Unity project is a project we should avoid.

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6 responses

8 07 2013

The political character of the Left Unity project is still to be determined. It may become a socialist party fighting for working class power or it may become yet another “left” appendage of the labour bureaucracy tied to the capitalist system. The struggle will decide- including the struggle within the Left party..Since capitalism is in crisis and a more humane capitalism is not on offer from the ruling class and the labour bureaucracy is weaker than it was and Stalinism is dead the objective possibility for a real international socialist party to emerge is greater than ever. We need a socialist party with an adequate program to transcend capitalism. The question of political program is essential. Direct action of itself does not create an socialist alternative

8 07 2013
mike martin

Sandy; I think that LU is more likely than not to prove to be the “left” appendage you speak of. You are right to focus on the need for a programme but this is still somewhat alien to many on the left who believe, or act as though they believe, that action is an end in itself. Such a view leaves little room for a perspective of workers taking power so all we are left with are protest politics. The voice of the permanently weak against the permanently powerful.

A programme would need to address; The world economic crisis is much more intractable than a cyclical recession and involves competition to extract more profits. This alone would set a left or socialist party on collision course with the Keynesian view that a modest stimulus to growth could replace austerity and solve the crisis. There are no national roads to escape the crisis. The working class is an international class and provides the only social force that can overthrow capitalism; it needs to be mobilised around its own independent interests.

A genuine socialist movement would recognise that all existing workers organisations have failed; not just the LP, but also the unions. The delusion that unions can be transformed via pressure from the left to provide the leadership that is needed must be challenged. Unions will move only far enough to retain some control over oppositional movements in order to isolate struggles and ensure failure. Politically defined rank and file movements are needed.

Another aspect of crisis that has largely been ignored in LU so far is the war danger. The “official” anti war movements have all but given up.

We need discussion to arise among those few organisations that take these issues seriously.

Up to now I have thought of Peoples Assembly as a pro-Labour exercise and noted that the leaders blocked Ken Loach from even mentioning LU. The current row over Falkirk raises the possibility of Unite parting company with Labour, in which case they now have a base in Peoples Assembly. This could then morph into a TUSC type movement but a bit big for Peter Taafe to chew on. I would expect LU to disappear into the swamp if that happened.

9 07 2013


I agree with what you write except your last paragraph. Very unlikely the main unions will break with labour. Unite are simply trying to maintain the career opportunities that the union bureaucracies have always gained via the labour party and the state. They wont give that up unless they have another viable ladder to the top. A left reformist party is not viable because the ruling class are not going to make any serious concessions

9 07 2013
mike martin

There is quite a strong body of opinion in New Labour that would like to end the link with the unions and turn the LP into something more like the US Democrats; politically it is not far off that even now. If they succeed that would put the unions in the position of looking for other viable ladders

9 07 2013

I think as long as the labour party exists there will be route for career advancement for trade union bureaucrats as MP and MSPs etc. within its structures. The fight is over how large a role for the trade unions bureaucrats not an attempt to exclude them entirely. Of course if the trade union leadership did an Arthur Scargill and launched a new left party marxists should join (in my view) and fight for a socialist program and internal democracy. A big problem we have is that we dont have an adequate socialist program but only the out lines of such a program.

11 07 2013

I’m all for left unity the only problem is that as soon as you start to politically criticise left reformists they either pick up the ball and run away or they utilise that favourite of their’s and use expulsions. To be politicall consistent it seems to me that we need to recognise that left reformists will be the main ones at the present time who will intitate campaigns/strikes while intervening in these campaigns with socialist/communist alternatives that goes beyong rhetorics of a twenty four hour general strike.


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