(A personal view from one of our members, SW)
When I first heard about Left Unity, I signed up immediately, but was sceptical and nervous. Whose stitch-up was this? Behind the façade of starting a national conversation about the kind of party we need, who was preparing the answers for us, to be swallowed whole on delivery? I signed up, and helped get our local group started. I was in. But like everyone else who came along to our group, I kept darting nervous glances towards the exit.
Since then, I have learned to relax. Left Unity is not a fraud. It is what it says it is. It is a genuine attempt to build a new party of the left. It rejects old dogmas and formulas – wanting to be guided by Marxism, and other left currents, but not defined by them. It is genuinely open and democratic and committed to drawing newcomers in, to doing things differently, to being an attractive place for people to be. Our aims are to oppose the attacks on ordinary working people in the name of ‘austerity’ in the short term, and to work for the big changes in society we need if we’re going to steer clear of economic and ecological disaster in the long term. We are committed to environmentalism, feminism, anti-racism, anti-fascism – to taking seriously and making our best attempts to deal with all the big issues of our time. We will work with all those fighting for a better world, and aim to build organised alternatives and oppositions from the grass roots up. What we have to do, in short, is build a socialism fit for the 21st century.
Now, it is just obvious, or should be, that any such project faces enormous challenges. I will not here spell them out here, but not the least of them may seem to be that, if you get ten people together in a room, you will very often have ten very different ideas about what is to be done, and on how to move forward, some of which may outrage the principles or strongly held beliefs of the others. This is no doubt a very great problem for totalitarians who already have the answers all sewn up – not so much for democrats committed to subordinating their egos to an open and ongoing process of discussion and decision-making and action. The former tend to find themselves in small groups with a handful of like-thinking adherents; the latter in campaigns and parties and unions that, for all their faults, and all their difficulties, and victories and defeats, provide rewarding and meaningful work for a lifetime.
So, when I went along to the founding conference of our new party last Saturday, I was apprehensive, but not too much so – I had already learned to stop worrying and to trust that we really were living up to our rhetoric. I had of course an opinion about everything that was on the agenda, but there were only three outcomes that were essential to me if I was to stay with the project. The first was a commitment to democracy, in deeds as well as words. The second was a commitment to socialism, broadly understood. The third was that debate should be carried on in a comradely and respectful manner, and be focused on the real political issues, not on pointless ideological and theoretical disputes. With allowances for human foibles and the odd exception to the rule, all these conditions were met – as I expected them to be. True, I also expected more chaos, so must thank here, not just the brilliant chairing and the hardworking organisers, but also all the participants, who respected the democracy of the meeting and took part with good faith. It was a great day.
The result is that we now have a new party of the left worthy of the name. We established it in an honourable and comradely and highly organised and well disciplined way, without all the usual lefty infighting and mudslinging and ranting and factionalising. So we’ve proved the naysayers wrong on one point already. The naysayers will now fall back on their other whinge: that it’s all doomed to failure anyway because we’ll never mount an effective challenge to Labour. That’s where our main task now lies. We’ve proved them wrong once. Let ‘s do it again. Not because we care about them, particularly. But because the need for what we are working so hard to achieve is so obvious and desperate and urgent. Let’s now make our best effort to live up to our new name – let’s build left unity in this country: unity against austerity, and for socialism.