An irresponsible split

Differences should be brought out into the light of day, writes Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists

Delegates were no doubt perplexed to find two rival publications with the same name – Labour Briefing – on sale at TUC congress in Brighton this week. Both journals argue for socialist ideas in the Labour Party and both claim to be the continuation of 32 years ofLabour Briefing as a pluralist forum for the Labour left, trade unionists and campaigners.

Following the democratic decision of the July 7 Briefing AGM to make it the journal of the Labour Representation Committee, the genuineLabour Briefing (labourbriefing.org.uk) is therefore produced by the LRC. The LRC is led by John McDonnell MP, has 1,200 or so individual members and around 150 affiliated organisations, including national trade unions, and a democratic structure.

The other version – the self-styled “original” Labour Briefing(labourbriefing.co.uk) – has no democratic structure. It is a spoiler launched by six comrades for whom the LRC is “too leftwing” or “ultra-left”. They continue to treat Briefing as their personal property, despite the open invitation to participate in the LRC’s new editorial board. Other comrades who argued against the merger have nevertheless accepted the democratic decision, to their credit. Jon Lansman, for instance, was a signatory of the anti-merger motion, but has now joined the editorial board.

Despite its much greater resources, it has to be said that the LRC’s initial 12-page TUC special looks like the poor relation, when compared with the 16-page “original”, with its gloss paper and the traditional Briefing banner, only slightly amended – the words “the original” appear in small print in the dot above the ‘i’ of Briefing. We must do better with the Labour Party conference issue, LRC comrades!

Feigning exclusion, the six splitters – Lizzy Ali, Stephen Beckett, Jenny Fisher, Richard Price, Christine Shawcroft and John Stewart – say they formed the LB Co-op to act as “a custodian of Labour Briefing to protect it against being taken over by a hostile group”. Their version, we are promised, will be “an independent voice and forum for socialist ideas in the Labour Party and trade unions”. The editorial excuses their irresponsible split by repeating the mantra of a “hostile takeover”, despite the fact that the merger proposal originated in theBriefing editorial board itself, most of whom were LRC members. It wrongly accuses the pro-merger comrades of “contempt for Labour Party members”, on the basis of a paragraph in LRC joint secretary Pete Firmin’s successful AGM resolution: “Briefing is predominantly sold within the Labour Party to Labour Party members. This is a weakness, as membership of the party has been decimated, and the Labour left is almost invisible to the outside world.” But surely this is merely a truthful estimate of our current weakness.

Although a few LRC members have expressed the view that the splitters should be expelled, and never again supported in any Labour Party election, most are more sensible. They want Christine Shawcroft to return to the LRC fold, but will support her in any case. “There is a long list of people I would not vote for before I got to Christine,” wrote one comrade.

In the “original” September special issue, comrade Shawcroft criticises the “tendency on the left to write off the bulk of party members … in a game of ‘prolier than thou’”, which “manifested itself on the Briefingeditorial board occasionally” and “led to Briefing drifting away from ordinary party members and away from our original mission of encouraging members to speak for themselves”. Christine argues effectively that the party membership should not be written off. “The ultras” are wrong, she says, to claim “that the fact that David [Miliband] got more votes in the constituency section than his little brother is proof of the inherent conservatism of party members”. In his electioneering, David did not announce “that he was the son of Tony Blair”. “He stood on false pretences, and members were taken in”.

These arguments are all well and good against those who would give up the fight to democratise the party, establish rank and file control over the party bureaucracy, open the party up to include all working class and socialist organisations and tendencies, and win it for the interests of the working class majority and socialism. They are not reasons for splitting from the LRC, whose aim is precisely to transform the Labour Party, not abandon it. As the genuine, LRC-controlledBriefing underlines, “The LRC is a democratic, socialist body working to transform the Labour Party into an organisation that reflects all sections of the working class.”

Having backed the successful motion at the July 7 Briefing AGM that the journal should “become the magazine of the Labour Representation Committee”, many LRC members, as well as Briefingreaders and supporters not in the LRC, are variously “outraged”, “disappointed” and “sad” on Facebook and Yahoo at the decision of the six anti-merger comrades to flout the majority decision. However, before getting too righteous about the “disgraceful behaviour” of once “trusted comrades” who “ignore democratic decisions”, etc, we should remember that the boot might well have been on the other foot, so to speak, had the vote gone the other way. Some pro-merger comrades made it very clear before the Briefing AGM that “we have had enough”, and “we will walk” if necessary. Indeed, Graham Bash had walked out of the editorial board as early as February.

Mike Phipps, who played a pivotal role in winning support for the merger, explained convincingly to the September 8 meeting of Greater London LRC why it was necessary. Briefing, Mike said, has been in long-term decline, because the Labour left has been shrinking. There was a real danger that Briefing would become unviable, like Voice of the Unions, which had been absorbed byBriefing. The 2011 AGM was attended by only about 25 comrades. On the other hand, the LRC was growing and needed a journal. About 80% of the Briefing editorial board were LRC members, Should the same overstretched team produce two journals? Nothing was “forced through”, as the “original” Briefing claims; indeed Christine Shawcroft, a leading opponent of the merger motion, chaired the AGM. Both sides had mobilised, and the AGM was unusually well attended. The vote was very close: 44 to 37, with three abstentions. Several of those pulled in to oppose the merger were won over during the debate.

So the merger was necessary. But I disagree with Mike’s insistence that the split was about personalities, not politics. On the contrary, the personal clashes on the editorial board were fuelled by political conflicts. While the splitters use red-baiting to ingratiate themselves with the so-called centre of the party, the LRC is looking outwards to win all trade unions to affiliate to Labour, and to campaigns like Occupy, in the hope that they will supply new blood in the struggle to transform Labour. As Pete Firmin’s merger motion said, “class struggle is the agent of change in the Labour Party”.

The reluctance of Briefing cadres to publish their disagreements in the pages of their own journal made it difficult for readers and supporters to discern the unarticulated political differences which gave rise to the eruption of personal hostilities on the editorial board at the start of 2012. As the bulk of the editorial board were LRC members, a merger with the LRC might have seemed non-controversial. But the splitters have been uncomfortable about their association with the LRC, especially its left wing, fearing it will endanger their alliance with the so-called centre of the party, especially the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance, which between them got Christine Shawcroft successfully elected to the NEC. Their true colours can be seen in the despicable display of McCarthyite red-baiting in their editorial, where it is alleged: “… members of the LRC – aided by members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, which produces the Weekly Worker – attended the AGM of Labour Briefing and forced through a vote …”

The splitters’ “original” Briefing hypocritically claims to be “a non-aligned magazine which is open to all” and that it was set up because readers “did not want to be shut up by the LRC”. But aren’t they the ones who, at the January 2012 editorial board meeting, opposed publication of my letter, mildly critical of sectarian comments by Christine Shawcroft? In her short report on the 2011 LRC AGM, Christine had light-heartedly wished the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, the New Communist Party and Labour Party Marxists – all affiliates of the LRC – would “go and play in someone else’s organisation”. The argument over whether to publish the letter caused a row, and Graham Bash withdrew from the editorial board, unable to remain in the same room as Jenny Fisher. But my letter was published and freedom of expression was upheld – despite the objections of those who now claim to be “open to all”.

Protecting ‘ordinary workers’ or ‘ordinary party members’ from real debate in the hope of not scaring them away does not prevent splits. Spoon-feeding readers with pre-digested consensus obstructs the necessary clarification of ideas for both readers and leaders. Ideas remain undeveloped. True, arguments for and against the merger ofBriefing with the Labour Representation Committee were carried in single-page articles twice, in the last two issues of the pre-split journal, in June and July. But this was too little, too late. And, although the merger decision was made by a democratic vote, a two-hour debate cannot substitute for the extensive written polemic required for clarification. To the extent that a culture of freedom of expression is not adopted, the same political frictions will inevitably continue to fester in the dark, not only between the rival journals, but within each camp.

Tyranny, structure and red baiting pluralists

Though merger with the Labour Representation Committee was agreed at the Labour Briefing AGM, ugly accusations have followed. Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists reports

Not what should be expected of the left

Peter Firmin’s motion to the July 7 Labour Briefing annual general meeting – that Briefing should “become the magazine of the LRC” – was carried, and the alternative motion moved by Jenny Fisher that the magazine should continue to be “run by our readers” was defeated, by 44 votes to 37 with three abstentions, after what comrade Firmin described as “by and large a healthy debate”. By this slim majority, the AGM agreed to “transfer Briefing to the LRC with immediate effect, with the aim of a relaunch at this autumn’s Labour Party conference”.

On the day, the AGM debate was thankfully free of the silly online accusation that the whole purpose of the merger proposal was personal: to exclude Jenny Fisher, Christine Shawcroft and others from Briefing’s editorial board (EB). In fact the June LRC national committee meeting had already agreed (subject to Briefing voting for the merger) to invite all existing EB members to sit on the interim editorial board “with full rights, including voting”, alongside those appointed by the NC. Subsequently, they will have the same right as anyone else to a seat on the EB – six to be elected by the LRC AGM (probably in December), and six by the national committee, to give “a balance of independence from, and accountability to, the NC”. Cooptees will not have a vote, in order “to maintain the supremacy of those elected”. It goes without saying, of course, that this NC plan may be varied by the LRC AGM itself.

This democratic structure will, hopefully, bring transparency and accountability to the editorial board, in place of the present ‘tyranny of structurelessness’ which leaves control in the hands of those in the know, or the most tenacious volunteers. “At present,” said the successful resolution, “Briefing is run by a small group of people … its structures and procedures are not very transparent and accountable.” And in the discussion on the two motions, Andrew Berry pointed to the “accountability deficit in Briefing”. Norette Moore – who, as a recent secretary of Greater London LRC, might reasonably be expected to know – said she had not previously attended a Briefing AGM because this was “the first time I heard that it is open”. I myself was similarly surprised, a few months ago, to discover that AGMs were open to readers, and that anyone at all could attend and vote. A fact not advertised, and presumably unknown to most of the roughly 950 Briefing readers.

Under these circumstances, it is perhaps inevitable that personal frictions arise and working together may become intolerable to the individuals concerned – in this case between comrades Jenny Fisher and Graham Bash. It was comrade Bash’s withdrawal from the EB in February, also withdrawing the use of his home as the EB’s office and meeting place, which triggered the revival of the 2008 proposal that Briefing should merge with LRC. But behind personal conflict there are usually political differences, and it was wrong for comrade Shawcroft to ask readers to oppose the merger on the basis of personal loyalty, as she did online, dividing the two EB camps into “carvers and carvees”.

Despite the much proclaimed commitment on both sides of the merger debate to continuing Briefing’s pluralist tradition of carrying articles from different political trends, it is evident that airing differences in public – actually a most healthy thing to do – is regarded by most as an embarrassment. In the online debates prior to the AGM, quite a few comrades bemoaned “wasting time on internal disputes”, while there are real issues “out there”. At the AGM, Simon Clark (for example), while arguing for the merger, said that the LRC “needs a paper, not debate”, and an ex-Islington councillor thought it “sad to dispute amongst ourselves”. But unless ideas are openly expressed and thrashed out in the light of day, they fester in an undeveloped form in the dark, and only burst into public view in the rotten form of a crisis – as on this occasion.

During the four years since the merger proposal was previously raised, the idea was not developed and thrashed out in the pages of the journal itself – the logical thing to have done. If that had happened, readers could have become familiar with the arguments and the issue need not have exploded onto a surprised readership in the form of a personality clash. In the period leading to the AGM, Briefing did not even carry the text of Peter Firmin’s merger motion, though it was submitted to the April EB meeting. Pre-AGM discussion in the journal was limited to a single page for each side in the June issue, and again in the July issue, but there were no readers’ letters on the merger proposal. So the main debate raged on the Facebook pages of Briefing and LRC, where facts and arguments were gradually dragged into the light – but only for those with the time and tenacity to dredge their way through hundreds of messages.

‘Historic’ delay

Chairing the AGM, comrade Shawcroft, drawing attention to the day’s agenda, announced somewhat casually and unconvincingly that the merger proposal (or “takeover”, as she called it) made this “a historic meeting”. Nevertheless, the proposed agenda allocated only an hour and twenty minutes out of four hours to this issue – to be preceded by two hours for four guest speakers and discussion. A comrade from Labour Party Marxists proposed that the “historic” merger proposal – “the reason there is such a big turnout today” – be taken seriously and moved to the top of the agenda. Only if time permitted should we hear the guest speakers. But comrade Shawcroft overruled the proposal, and invited the comrade to challenge the chair’s ruling, which would require a two-thirds majority. However, John Stewart asked if more time could be given to the two motions, and the chair agreed to start the item 30 minutes earlier.

Although passions were sometimes high, significant political differences between the two sides were difficult to discern. Both sides were clearly committed to the struggle within the Labour Party, but at least some of the anti-merger wing wanted to keep a certain distance from the LRC – because they want to keep a certain distance from the non-Labour left. The anti-merger comrades did not dispute the description of Briefing in comrade Firmin’s four-page motion: “Briefing has a unique role in providing a broad, non-sectarian voice for the left, which orientates politically towards the Labour Party and fights to channel the demands of the broader movement and campaigns towards the party and a Labour government.” But the motion also emphasised the importance of the class struggle outside the Labour Party and, while comrade Firmin said “the Labour Party is the agency of change”, he added that “class struggle is the agency of change in the Labour Party”. Richard Price, in contrast, exhibited a severe case of Labour Party sectarianism, fulminating against LRC joint secretary Andrew Fisher for resigning from Labour like so many comrades (though he later rejoined), over the Labour government’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. And the LRC, he complained, had split the Grass Roots Centre Left slate and allowed Luke Akehurst onto Labour’s NEC. So there are those who consider the LRC ultra left, eg, comrade Stewart, who penned the anti-merger page in the June issue of Briefing, admitted that “the LRC is too left for me”.

Ian Ilett, speaking in favour of the merger, saw the political difference as either “working in the Labour Party, waiting for the class struggle to come in” (anti-merger), or “going out to the class struggle” (pro-merger). Indeed, comrade Jenny Fisher’s emphasis, in moving the anti-merger motion, saw Briefing’s role almost purely within the Labour Party. “Some in the LRC,” she said, “want to build the LRC as an alternative movement.” Briefing “isn’t an organisation: it’s a magazine”. And, pretending that Briefing does not have its own politics, she added: “Don’t tell the Labour left the answers – they have ideas themselves.” Briefing should “give space to the newly elected left on Labour’s NEC and national policy forum”. Its role should be “to make the left visible, not to lead it”.

With all their talk of pluralism, of giving a voice to all strands of the Labour left, the anti-merger wing of Briefing seems satisfied with the left being divided, so that Briefing can carry on its “non-aligned” role of supposedly being everyone’s voice. These comrades do not want organisational unity – which, however, is vital to the task of defeating the pro-capitalist bureaucracy and transforming the party into a pro-working class, socialist party. Reflecting the sad division of much of the left, in or out of Labour, into bureaucratic-centralist sects which forbid public discussion of political differences, they support this backwardness by believing that pluralist organisation, where minorities can express their views, is impossible. Pluralism versus organisation.

Hence, the pejorative term, “house journal”, that was used by a number of anti-merger comrades. Comrade Fisher clearly expressed this view in a Facebook posting: “I still don’t see how the LRC can produce a pluralist and open magazine if it is the magazine of only one organisation – its mouthpiece, aiming to build that organisation (unless one assumes that organisation is the pluralist left, rather than part of it).”

Perhaps the trump card of the anti-merger wing was veteran Labour CND comrade Walter Wolfgang, who told us that Briefing is needed because “Tribune is not always consistent”. But Briefing “must be independent of an organisation … To make it a house journal would be to murder it.” However, the pro-merger trump was John McDonnell, who, after pleading for everyone to accept whatever decision was made and leave the room as comrades, reluctantly admitted that he had been won away from his previous agnostic position by the arguments of Mike Phipps and was now convinced that merger was “beneficial for the movement overall”.

Red-baiting

On July 8, the day after the AGM, instead of accepting the democratic decision of the Briefing AGM, comrades Fisher and Shawcroft issued a press release which, unfortunately, reverted to many of the acrimonious terms and arguments used online before the relatively cordial debate at the AGM. Labour Briefing is to “close down” and the LRC intends to launch “its own house journal, using the same name”. Despite the majority vote by the Briefing AGM on a motion from members of the Briefing editorial board, the press release has it that “members of the LRC – aided by members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, which produces the Weekly Worker – attended the AGM of Labour Briefing and forced through a vote …” The merger is “a hostile takeover which is tantamount to political asset-stripping”, the press release continues. “Those readers who have been robbed of their magazine are now the human collateral damage in the LRC’s turn to empire building.”

This red-baiting and fingering comrades as Communist Party members, reminiscent of McCarthyism and the worst aspects of the Labour Party in the cold war period, is repeated uncritically by Jon Lansman in his July 9 Left Futures blog, where he presents what appears to be a neutral, journalistic report – failing to mention that he was one of the signatories of the anti-merger motion, or the unmissable fact that comrade McDonnell spoke in favour of the merger.

I have as yet received no reply from comrades Fisher and Shawcroft to my two questions, asked in the light of their hostile press release: Are you planning to launch a rival magazine, as some have suggested? I hope not. Will you write for the coming issues of Briefing? I hope so.

Common sense and left divisions

The proposed merger of Labour Representation Committee and Labour Briefing will be decided at Briefing’s AGM this Saturday. Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists reviews the discussion so far, and backs the merger

As the annual general meeting of Labour Briefing is upon us, an online debate is raging around the AGM motion to make LB the journal of the Labour Representation Committee. The idea is not new. A similar motion was moved four years ago by comrade Susan Press, but it only gained minority support. This time the merger motion is supported by a majority of both the LB editorial board (EB) and LRC national committee. At the May national committee meeting which agreed “to take the magazine on” by 17 votes to 7, LRC chair John McDonnell MP emphasised that this is “not a hostile takeover bid”, but the LRC is “waiting in the wings” if the Briefing AGM backs the merger.

The common-sense arguments for merger are sound. Like all leftwing journals, Briefing’s future is at risk; its activists are diminishing and growing older; its financial survival is uncertain. There is an overlapping core of activists and leaders sustaining both LB and LRC. The politics of both are ostensibly very close – for left unity, directing the left to the task of transforming the Labour Party and the trade unions towards socialism. A journal without an organisation should merge with a growing left unity organisation without a journal.

EB member Mike Phipps makes the argument well in the July issue of Briefing (‘Briefing: expand or die’): “Rather than going to more meetings than are necessary wearing different hats, why not put the two together?” The LRC is “committed … to the pluralist traditions and Labour orientation of Briefing. That’s non-negotiable … But as to political disagreements … we already have these in Briefing … And we should welcome them …” Warning that the EB and production team may not “just continue to renew itself”, comrade Phipps reminds us of the sudden disappearance of Voice of the Unions: “… once the number of people falls below a critical mass, publication will simply cease. It may not be long before Briefing reaches that position.”

Although personal conflicts and frustration have evidently played a part in triggering the merger proposal on this occasion, readers and subscribers should reject the silly argument that the purpose of the proposal is personal – to “exclude”, “oust” or “carve out” certain members of the outgoing editorial board, whose term of office expires at the AGM in any case. No individual has a right to a place on the EB. If the merger proposal falls, a new EB will be elected at the AGM. If it succeeds, the composition of the new EB will be decided through the democracy of the LRC.

Instead of personal conflicts, we must examine the political differences, if we can find them, which motivate the reluctant minority who vociferously oppose this common-sense proposal. Ignoring the spurious arguments that an editorial board responsible to LRC could not possibly function effectively, the political concerns of the anti-merger minority seem to be threefold: Briefing’s orientation to the Labour Party, its political pluralism, and its “organisational pluralism” or independence.

Would merging with LRC weaken Briefing’s orientation to the Labour Party?

Not at all. LRC rule 3 states that its aim is to “appeal for support … to all socialists outside the Labour Party, who it will encourage to join or rejoin the Labour Party”. Comrade Jenny Fisher, however, writing against the merger in the July Briefing (‘Not ready for slaughter’), argues that the overlap between the LB and LRC “has probably held Briefing back”, because of the LRC’s “purist approach”. Its ‘no cuts’ campaign “got nowhere and stopped dialogue about the left in local government”. She continues: “The Labour left … needs a forum for debate and organisation: it is that vacuum Briefing should fill.” Here Jenny quite rightly mentions the need for organisation – but this is a need which Briefing does not fill, with its ‘non-aligned’ status. If she thinks the LRC’s tactical approach to the anti-cuts struggle is wrong, that should be argued through the democracy of the LRC – it is not an argument against organisation.

Would merging with the LRC undermine the pluralism of Briefing?

EB member John Stewart questioned the pluralism of the LRC in his June Briefing article, ‘Briefing should keep its independence’. He asks: “Would an article advocating support for one of the leading lights of the soft left [like his 2007 backing for Jon Cruddas as Labour deputy leader] be included in a future LRC Briefing?” However, while his version of pluralism reaches out to the right of the LRC, unfortunately it does not extend leftwards or to those outside the Labour Party. In the same article, somewhat naively, he expresses his fears that an LRC Briefing might open its pages to “the New Communist Party and the Morning Star Supporters Group” – both non-Labour affiliates of the LRC. And, he complains, “another affiliate, Labour Party Marxists, repeatedly criticised Briefing chair Christine Shawcroft in print during the Labour Party NEC election campaign”. The criticism “in print” to which comrade Stewart objects was my friendly, but mildly critical, letter published in the February issue of Briefing itself – despite the opposition of comrade Stewart, whose ‘pluralism’ is evidently of the censoring kind.

Comrade Fisher, too, exhibits an unhealthy antipathy to the LRC’s non-Labour left. Instead of recognising the necessity of drawing them into the struggle to transform the party, she accuses the LRC of working with other left groups “on their own terms, without making the Labour Party central – hence its reliance on non-affiliated trade unions”. Of course, LRC could and should do much more to campaign for trade unions to affiliate, and to combat the destructive campaign for disaffiliation led by groups like the Socialist Party in England and Wales. That is an essential part of our struggle to transform Labour. By the same measure, we should not write off or disown those expelled from the party by the bureaucracy for their views, or for standing up for democratic principles – like the RMT union, or individual expellees like Tower Hamlets comrade Stephen Beckett, thrown out of the party for backing Lutfur Rahman and Labour Party democracy, and defying bureaucratic diktat. Paradoxically, comrade Beckett is in the anti-merger camp at present.

“In short,” continues comrade Fisher, “Briefing builds the Labour Party; the LRC builds the LRC so it can be part of forming a new party of labour of which the Labour left may be a part” (my emphasis). This may be a minority view in the LRC, but it is a misrepresentation to present it as LRC policy. As Mike Phipps points out in his ‘expand or die’ article, “The LRC has changed: anti-Labour elements are marginal …” Making LB part of LRC would surely strengthen its orientation to Labour further. Transforming the party is a necessary task for the left, and we need to be as united as possible, including organisationally united, in order to tackle the job. Reaching out to the non-Labour left and non-affiliated unions is an essential part of our orientation to Labour.

Of course, we do not know what the future holds for the Labour Party. If we begin to be successful and the left gets stronger, the right may abandon ship – like the ‘gang of four’ who split from Labour to found the Social Democratic Party in 1981, and later merged with the Liberals to form the Lib Dems. Better if we had kicked them out. The Blairite project to break the trade union link and transform the party in the wrong direction, into a purely bourgeois liberal party, may one day succeed. But, speculation aside, as things are, we must do everything to build a strong, well organised left and to rid the party of openly pro-capitalism, anti-working class factions like Progress, with its £400,000 per annum income (£260,000 from Lord David Sainsbury alone), which should have no place in the workers’ movement. We must transform Labour so that it stands clearly on the side of working class struggle and for socialism.

Would merging with the LRC curtail Briefing’s political pluralism?

At the June 30 LRC NC meeting, an anti-merger leaflet in the names of Jenny Fisher, Stephen Beckett and Christine Shawcroft made the curious claim: “Labour Briefing’s tradition of pluralism is a political and an organisational one: pluralism in the sense of being non-aligned and working with others. Briefing was often called the ‘in-house journal of the Labour left’. That’s different from the ‘house journal of the LRC’.” So, here we have the invention of the concept “organisational pluralism”, ascribing Briefing’s ability to publish a range of left views to its supposed independence of any particular organisation – as if it were not an organisation in its own right. By contrast, the argument goes, if Briefing belongs to another organisation – the LRC – it loses its independence and its ability to carry a range of views.

I am sure the comrades have not grasped the disastrous implication of this naive idea: it legitimises the splitting disease of the left, and the false idea that a socialist political organisation must neither contain differing views nor be open to outside views. If you disagree, you must split and form your own organisation. That is how the left arrived at its present divided state. Championing “organisational pluralism” simply defends the unfortunate status quo. So it is OK that the left is split into many organisations, some in the Labour Party and some outside it, dispersing our uncoordinated efforts and competing for members and scant resources.

No, it is not OK. We need not merely open discussion, so we can learn from each other, so minority views can be heard and understood, so minorities can become majorities. We also need democratic organisation, so majority views can determine collective, effective action.

Annual general meeting

Saturday July 7, 12 noon, University of London Union, Malet Street, London WC1. Open to Labour Briefing readers.

www.labourbriefing.org.uk

Divisions surface and split beckons

What political differences lie behind the heated arguments in the Labour Representation Committee and Labour Briefing? Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists reports on the proposed merger, and counsels against irresponsible splits

Christine Shawcroft: where are the politics? (photo: Louise Whittle)

More heat than light has been produced by the online exchanges on the Facebook pages of the Labour Representation Committee and Labour Briefing following the May 26 LRC national committee meeting. By 17 votes to 7 the NC endorsed an executive committee merger motion – that the LRC and LB should combine, to their mutual benefit: an organisation without a journal should get together with a journal without an organisation. The proposal will depend on the July 7 AGM of LB, which will debate a similar motion from editorial board member and LRC joint secretary Pete Firmin. While opponents of the merger are calling it a takeover, and warning that it will precipitate a split in both organisations, some pro-merger comrades are hinting that they may abandon Briefing if they do not get their way.

Irresponsible splits are the debilitating disease of the left. They are a crime against the struggle for unity which the left and the working class movement needs, and which both LRC and LB claim to stand for. I would urge comrades on both sides to clearly present their arguments so as to ensure that LRC members and LB subscribers and readers are fully engaged. I myself – a member of LRC and a subscriber to LB – only obtained a copy of the LRC motion three days after the NC had voted for it. And I only read about the merger proposal in the ‘for’ and ‘against’ single-page articles in the June issue of LB, which arrived in the post on the very morning of the May 26 NC meeting.

How did such a situation arise, in two mutually supportive, pro-Labour Party, left unity groups? Both seek to unite the left and to democratise and transform the Labour Party. But democracy begins at home, in our own organisations, and depends on open discussion. The problem seems to me to lie in the reluctance to air our differences in public. Many rank-and-file comrades have expressed dismay at the heated conflict which has broken out online between leading comrades, where previously differences had not been apparent. This surely points to the short-sightedness of the view that we should hide our differences, not ‘wash our dirty linen in public’, that publishing criticism will frighten away potential supporters, that we should ‘leave our guns at the door’, and so on.

In his pro-merger LB article, comrade Firmin argues that the merger will give Briefing “a bigger base, bigger readership and wider audience” and that there is “much overlap of both political views and personnel (and even more so of supporters)”. The LRC is “in need of its own publication”, but “to start one in competition with Briefing would be a duplication of effort”. LB fights to “channel the demands of the broader movement and campaigns towards the party and a Labour government”, he says approvingly, while the LRC is “committed to fighting for the Labour Party to support the resistance …”. Implicitly criticising LB for being one-sidedly orientated towards the party, to the neglect of the extra-parliamentary mass struggle, he argues: “Labour Briefing … needs to recognise that there is a layer of activists who see Labour as a neoliberal party, some seeing little point in relating to the broader labour movement at all … socialists … have to win their activists to our ranks, pointing out how political gains can be achieved through the labour movement …”

Some comrades have asked me whether the merger plan will be put to the next LRC AGM. But Pete’s proposal is “to transfer Briefing to the LRC with immediate effect, with the aim of a relaunch at this autumn’s Labour Party conference”.

Editorial board member John Stewart put the case in the June issue for LB “retaining its independence … unless others can demonstrate the superiority of their proposals”. “Briefing’s durability” – it’s been around since 1980 – “gives it a stability lacking in the LRC”. Comrade Stewart doubts “LRC claims … of over 1,000 members and dozens of affiliates”. But, although it is not a precise measure, the two Facebook pages seem to back up the claim: LRC – 1,463 and rising; LB – 120.

Comrade Stewart displays an unconscious hypocrisy with respect to democracy and open discussion. On the one hand, he worries that an article like his 2007 piece “advocating support for one of the leading lights of the soft left” – namely, John Cruddas – would not “be included in a future LRC Briefing”.

On the other hand, he holds up the bogey that LRC affiliates – the New Communist Party and the Morning Star Supporters Group – might be given space to support “the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia … and the governments of North Korea and China”. And worse: “Recently, another affiliate, Labour Party Marxists, repeatedly criticised Briefing chair Christine Shawcroft in print during the Labour NEC election campaign.” Well, firstly, it was comradely criticism, which Christine accepted. Secondly, if criticism of leaders is out of order, I have to ask comrade Stewart what exactly he thinks is wrong with North Korea or China.

The caption to the picture selected to accompany comrade Stewart’s article gives us a pointer to the politics that appear to be involved in this dispute: “Tony Benn addresses delegates to the 2008 Compass conference at Briefing’s fringe meeting. John McDonnell MP refused to attend because of John Cruddas’s association with Compass” (the rightwing Labour pressure group “committed to help build a Good Society”).

However, we should not judge the opposition to immediate merger by the limitations of John Stewart’s arguments. But what does he mean by saying that his “greatest concern” is “that an LRC takeover may lead to negative developments on the wider Labour left”? Apparently those against the merger believe that a journal can only be genuinely “pluralist” if it is not controlled by any one group. The anti-merger leaflet, backed by comrade Christine Shawcroft and distributed at the May 26 LRC NC meeting, makes this clear.

“It’s no good saying that ‘LRC Briefing’ would be ‘pluralist’: there’s plenty of ‘pluralist’ magazines trotting out their own line; and plenty more ‘pluralist’ magazines debating the ‘pluralist’ lines within their own organisations. Above all: who will take a commitment to ‘pluralism’ seriously if you close down a pluralist magazine and set up, using its name, the magazine of your own organisation?” The implication is that LB, at present, has no political line of its own, and if it adopted a line, that would diminish the range of (left) opinions willing to write for it. If “LRC Briefing” is also to be “a journal of debate within LRC” with space for both majority and minority opinions, “will it be made clear what is the majority position? Hang on a moment – where has that ‘pluralism’ gone, then?”

Briefing’s genuine pluralism”, the leaflet claims, would be “killed off” if it were “directed exclusively by the NC of a single organisation on the left”. So what kind of left unity should we strive for? Instead of fighting to unite the left politically and organisationally, do the authors of the anti-merger leaflet advocate preserving the disunity of the left, so that the diverse tendencies can enjoy fair and equal access to the pages of LB?

This defeatist horizon seems to be a fetish arising from a unity moment in Briefing’s history. “When the [Workers Revolutionary Party] collapsed in the 1980s,” explains the leaflet, “Labour Herald called for unity of left publications. At a meeting of Herald, Briefing, International and Socialist Viewpoint, Graham Bash announced: ‘I am all for unity. Let’s have a joint magazine. The only preconditions are that it is called Labour Briefing and that no one group has control.’” The leaflet complains that Graham has not explained his reasons for abandoning “Briefing’s ethos”.

I cannot speak for comrade Bash, but there is an obvious justification for his change of heart: the circumstances have changed. The unification of several left journals to survive hard times for the left after the defeat of the 1984-85 miners’ Great Strike may well have been a positive step, but today we need to build a higher level of unity.

Comrade Christine Shawcroft has fully identified with the leaflet’s contents. I should like to hear the views of the other six NC members who voted ‘no’: Ted Knight, Jon Lansman, Gary Heather, Claire Wadey, Lois Radice and Miles Barter. And I should like to hear all NC members declaring against irresponsible splits. In other words, if you lose the vote, stay together. Accept majority decisions, insist on minority rights.

Come on over

Motion carried by 17 votes to 7 at the May 26 LRC NC

The EC notes that members of the Labour Briefing editorial board will be putting a motion to their AGM to transfer Labour Briefing to the LRC.

The EC notes the proposal by members of the Labour Briefing editorial board and if the motion is passed at the Labour Briefing AGM (on July 7), we would agree to take the magazine on.

The EC notes that Labour Briefing – like the LRC – has always followed a pluralist line, promoting discussion within the labour and trade union movement. We would pledge to maintain that tradition.

We also believe that having a magazine associated with the LRC would be beneficial for the following reasons:

  • It would create more space for discussion and debate within the LRC and wider movement.
  • It would give the LRC more visibility, and would help us to recruit and retain membership and affiliation.
  • It would assist in organising the Labour left and trade union movement.
  • We could develop a coordinated and integrated communications strategy, incorporating the website, magazine, email, Twitter and Facebook – as well as to reach LRC members who are digitally excluded.

In taking on Labour Briefing, the LRC would agree to maintain its pluralist traditions and coverage of Labour Party, trade union, social and international struggles. We believe becoming a magazine hosted by the LRC would broaden the base of Labour Briefing and help it to develop as a useful tool in organising the labour movement left.

We believe that the correct structure to run the magazine would be an editorial board accountable to and delegated from the national committee, though with the authority to coopt (subject to NC approval).

Dreaming of 1945

The time for reformist timidity is long passed, argues Maciej Zurowski in his report of the Labour Representation Committee’s annual conference

Stan Keable: reject gradualism (photo: Louise Whittle)

The Labour Representation Committee, rather than being a single tendency body, serves as an umbrella for a variety of groupings and individuals, primarily those in the Labour Party who consider themselves to be on the left. As such, it hosts an array of left Labourites, Marxists, Stalinites and Trotskyites, all of whom enjoy an uneasy alliance under what is essentially a ‘British socialist’ platform.

Nominally, its function is what Andrew Fisher, the opening chair at the November 19 LRC annual conference, held in the University of London Union, vaguely described as pushing the Labour Party “in a more socialist direction”. In contrast to the staged and stitched-up ‘conferences’ of the ostensibly revolutionary sects – take, for instance, the Socialist Workers Party’s annual rallies – the LRC’s annual conference does provide some room for contending viewpoints, even if motions have to be proposed in three and a half minutes and subsequent contributions squeezed into two.

Labourite unity

And so, the first half of the day was kicked off by John McDonnell’s typically eloquent account of the technocratic euro zone coup. Comrade McDonnell demanded we support direct action and Occupy protests, while simultaneously advocating sustained, traditional trade union and political party organisation to the new blood of resistance – this was echoed later on by an Occupy guest speaker who admitted that his movement might have “the energy, but not necessarily the brains, experience and leadership”.

Beyond November 30, McDonnell argued, there should be more days of industrial action, and a dialogue about an unspecified “new model of society” should be held – a view that, for better or worse, no-one in the hall could disagree with.

Graham Bash of Labour Briefing spoke in a similarly crowd-pleasing fashion, rallying the assembled LRC members to a “fight for a Labour government ready to take on capital”. It was unclear what type of Labour government he meant and how we would get it. Even more ambiguously, comrade Bash alluded to necessary “alliances with those who will not be with us all the way”.

Despite the sometimes vagueness of their statements, most speeches from the straightforward Labourite camp were competent – although a breathless contribution from Hackney LRC offered vapid agitprop worthy of an SWP rally: capitalism is in crisis, we were thunderously informed (who would have guessed?), so it was time we “reclaimed our party”.

If the latter was an instance of intellectual underkill, the Islington North CLP’s motion was a textbook example of political sneakiness. Sound bites such as “Inequality is bad and is something that we should do something about” – a truism if there ever was one – should have rang everybody’s alarm bells. The motion itself contained a lot of fluff about setting the budget in a way that does not hit black people and women the hardest, but effectively amounted to an underhand attempt at whitewashing cuts deemed to be ‘fair’. A ‘fairness commission’ is what these slippery comrades would like to set up, and we are pretty sure they could even get George Osborne to sign up.

Labour Party Marxists delegate Stan Keable took the opportunity to alert even the most somnambulant socialist in the house to the motion’s treacherous content. But, in a surprising and highly unfortunate development, the motion was carried. That’s right – ‘Labour’s resistance’ had no trouble voting for a motion that Ed Miliband might have slipped in when he thought no-one was looking. The climate thus set, MP Katy Clark could get away unchallenged when she naively stated that now even the Blairite Progress group was “changing” and coming out “in defence of the workers” – as if the leftish posturing of career politicians in opposition was some act of great significance. The Tories, argued Clark, just don’t provide the “growth that we need” – and that’s about as militant as it got.

Following this, not even NEC candidates Gary Heather, Christine Shawcroft and Patrick Hall could shock us when they announced that they would not publicly condemn Labour councillors who implemented cuts. Further contributions, advocating good old bureaucratic voluntarism as a method to overcome the organisation’s poor gender balance (“we need to be more inclusive”), gave this part of the conference precisely the soft-left sheen that it deserved.

Marxist confusion

The only left groups to submit motions in their own name were the New Communist Party, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, and the new kids on the block, Labour Party Marxists. The good news first: the AWL’s very decent motion for Europe-wide working class unity and against EU withdrawal was carried by 72 votes to 60, with several dozen abstentions. That’s no mean feat, seeing as the hard left in and around LRC is still considerably tainted by nationalism and, in more than a few cases, nostalgia for Stalin’s failed national-socialist model.

Despite pleas to abandon this “divisive” motion, one contributor from the floor correctly pointed out that the time to raise the question of Europe is now – in fact, with the background of the euro zone crisis, there has never been a more pressing time. This, we are happy to conclude, must have dawned on more than a few LRC comrades, giving the organisation a position on Europe that is now to the left of the SWP/Alex Callinicos line. Of course, we have many points of contention with the third-campist AWL, but we do welcome the call to “organise public meetings and debates about Europe across the country”. If the LRC leadership makes this a reality, such events would provide us with plenty of opportunity to debate the AWL’s less appetising Atlanticist birthmarks.

On to the bad news: a motion by tankie survivors, the New Communist Party, which painted Gaddafi’s regime in quite agreeable colours, was carried by an impressive majority. Gaddafi provided a decent living standard for his pool of wage-slaves; he gave generous famine relief to other African countries. You’ve heard the song before, and it would not be worth further reciting, were it not for the fact that the motion also managed to call on that principled anti-imperialist body known as the United Nations to “defend the sovereignty of small nations”.

“There’s been a lot of compromisin’ on the road to my horizon,” sang Glen Campbell in his country pop classic, ‘Rhinestone cowboy’ – words that must ring particularly true if your theoretical road led from studying Marx and Lenin to endorsing Gaddafi and the UN. Is the fawning before Gaddafi’s achievements just plain, second-camp ‘idiot anti-imperialism’? Or have these people actually arrived at the conclusion that the working class will never emancipate itself and can therefore only hope to be policed by benevolent autocrats?

Whatever the case, the NCP was not alone in fostering illusions in bourgeois forces. It was when arguing against the Libya motion that the AWL came into its own, pushing its trademark ‘We don’t call for imperialist intervention, but refuse to condemn it’ line. Sometimes (most times?) Nato invasions create favourable conditions for working class struggle, we were told once again; so who are we to condemn the imperialist bloodbath in Libya? One AWL comrade gave us an allegory on the way: if the police attack fascists at a demonstration, he claimed, we don’t call upon them to stop because, after all, that’s where the repressive state apparatus hits the correct target. According to his twisted logic, it follows that we don’t oppose imperialist mass murder if a dictator is removed in the process.

Labour Party Marxists

Labour Party Marxists submitted a relatively brief motion, which rejected Labour governments that are backed by a minority of the population, loyal to the constitutional order and do not have a “realistic prospect of implementing a full socialist programme”. Such Labour administrations merely pave the way for the next Tory government and further attacks on the working class. The idea that no workers’ party should administer capitalism in the hope of handing down some reforms is, of course, socialist ABC dating back to way before the Second International. Short of being able to implement a “full socialist programme” backed by the majority of the people – which by definition involves breaking up the institutions of the capitalist state – it should continue to act as a party of extreme opposition.

In the run-up to the LRC conference Stuart King, a member of the Permanent Revolution group, referred to the LPM’s motion as a combination of “ultra-left abstentionism and parliamentary cretinism” which fails to address the question of the state and the armed people. I am in no position to tell whether the comrade’s remark was a genuine misunderstanding or a disingenuous put-down, though it is hard to imagine how a rejection of Labour governments that are “loyal to the constitutional order” could have escaped him. A political group which explicitly rejects the constitutional order, you would think, must aim to break up that order: ie, smash the state, including its extra-parliamentary institutions. How else could you interpret that formulation?

Either way, Labour Party Marxists can be grateful to the comrade for providing a test run ahead of the conference, illustrating how someone could ‘misunderstand’ what is being said in the worst possible way. Far be it for me to insist that one should, as Hitler recommended, always tailor one’s speeches to the biggest fool in the hall, but with only three and a half minutes to move a motion – let alone one coming from a new group that not many will have heard of – it is imperative to take great care about one’s choice of words.

Although the LRC has, as we have seen, more than its quota of reformists, Labour Party Marxists might have won over a good section of those present by a more comprehensive motion. A clear statement on the tasks of the working class vanguard operating in and outside the LP – rather than just a list of things that socialist should not do – may have gone a long way to clearly distance the group from Socialist Party of Great Britain-type utopians, who, with pure hearts and arms folded, have been waiting for the masses to vote for socialism for over 100 years.

LPM members appeared acutely aware that they will be judged by what they proceed to do and say in the forthcoming months. In my opinion, this should include an elaboration of their position on the state question. But they are on the right track – LPM comrade Jim Moody was elected onto the LCR’s national committee – but they will need to make their positions understood to many, including in two-minute sound bites.

Pedantry aside, the reason why the motion was not carried was, in all likelihood, due to concerns from the right wing of the LRC, not from its left. For all their socialist speechifying, the overriding leitmotif of the organisation is, before everything else, to get a Labour government elected. Despite the historical experience of the 20th century and, it stands to reason, against their better knowledge, the comrades hope that bad Labour governments will be followed by less bad ones, until one day – hey presto – we get a socialist one.

In this gradualist approach, our Permanent Revolution comrade does not differ significantly from the traditionalist Labourites who extolled the virtues of the 1945 Attlee government – you know, the NHS and all that – in speaking against the LPM motion. How much more, one wonders, must the European economy deteriorate to convince these comrades that there is just no point in dreaming of another 1945?

LRC Annual Conference 2011: Labour’s resistance

The Labour Representation Committee’s 2011 AGM takes place this Saturday, 19 November, 10:00am to 4:30pm ULU, Malet Street, London. Labour Party Marxists have submitted the following motion:

The Labour Representation Committee does not aim for a Labour government for its own sake. Bad Labour governments do not lead to good Labour governments. They lead to Tory governments.

History shows that Labour governments committed to managing the capitalist system and loyal to the existing constitutional order create disillusionment in the working class.

The aim must be that the Labour Party should only consider forming a government when it has the active support of a clear majority of the population and has a realistic prospect of implementing a full socialist programme.

We’ve also published the first edition of the LPM bulletin – please let us know what you think.

Suffocating lack of democracy

Delegate Jim Moody gives his impressions of the Liverpool Labour Party conference, 25-29 September 2011

Miliband: Blairism without Blair?

New Labour is dead: long live the refounded Labour Party! Well, that’s not quite what happened in Liverpool last week. In fact, the Blairite legacy is alive and well and functions to destroy real debate within the party, especially at what should be its ultimate decision-making body, annual conference.

The other side of this coin was illustrated on the Mersey too: that the unions are decisive and if their bureaucracies wanted they could change the present state of affairs, for the betterment of party democracy. In actual fact, conference functions largely as a PR presentation for the media, with stage-managed speeches absent of contention with respect to any proposal on the table, since almost everything has been decided beforehand, beyond the conference hall.

Attending conference as a delegate for the first time was an almost joyless experience for me. Unsurprisingly and perhaps even unremarkably, the attenuated (ie, denial of) democracy beloved of New Labour persists. Those of us active in the party know how democratically eviscerated it has become since the time of Blair’s takeover in the mid-1990s. When it comes to what would be usual for conferences of trade unions and all kinds of democratic organisations, Labour now does things differently. We have arrived at a situation where, instead of a conference at which affiliates’ and constituencies’ delegates debate motions and amendments to motions, there are the deliberately impenetrable and abstruse policy forums and subsequent empty rhetoric and pointless conference speeches. Once the national policy forum’s (NPF) report is accepted by the national executive committee, that is that: the report, section by section, can only be accepted or rejected by conference; no amendments are allowed. As expected, it was passed as the leadership intended following conference ‘debate’. In conference itself, there were only flashes of real discussion, mainly centring on attempts to reference-back the morning’s conference arrangements committee (CAC) reports on a couple of occasions.

Constituency Labour Parties and affiliates such as trade unions are allowed to submit one so-called contemporary motion (and CLPs can only do that if they have not submitted a rule change proposal). However, if a contemporary motion is to stand a chance of appearing on the conference order paper at all, its subject matter must not already have been discussed by the NPF or its commissions before the cut-off date (the NPF’s last meeting in late July). Obviously, this considerably constrains what CLPs and affiliated organisations can put forward. At conference itself this thin slice of permitted motions is squeezed into a few composites, only eight of which can be moved. On the first day two groups – CLPs and affiliates (overwhelmingly the unions) – each choose four composites.

But this year, through overlapping choices and the restricted interpretation of the CAC, only five composites actually made it onto the agenda. The unions chose ‘Jobs, growth, employment rights’; ‘Health and social care’; ‘Phone hacking’; and ‘Public services’. CLPs in the main disregarded advice given in the first bulletin put out by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, so their votes were largely wasted when they were cast for three dead certs (ie, three of the union-backed composites), plus a composite on ‘Housing’. This meant, for example, that the ‘August riots’ did not get taken: a glaring omission. Although there were challenges to the CAC’s morning reports on its recommendations, none was successful and chairs of sessions refused calls for card votes.

What constitutes an emergency motion to conference was even more tightly defined: so much so that none of those submitted this year cleared the hurdles placed in their way. All the proposed rule changes that were accepted onto the agenda, none of which was earth-shattering, fell on card votes after CAC recommendations against their acceptance.

Of course, arguably the most important item at conference has been the culmination of discussions on the Refounding Labour document first proposed by Peter Hain in March on the instigation of Ed Miliband. Branches and CLPs spent considerable time and effort on this project, submitting thousands of responses. But these appear hardly to have been given more than a nod in the end; we are still waiting to see if the responses will be published in full; the only feedback so far, apart from standard bland letters of acknowledgment from Hain, has been bare statistics on the number of responses that were made.

The NEC finalised a reformulated version days before conference after secret recommendations were made by its organisation committee in the light of trade union objections. Then last-minute negotiations between party and union officials on the day before conference started ensured that the leadership’s key proposals were retained in Refounding Labour.

Accordingly, from now on non-members can become registered supporters of the Labour Party, able to vote in the leadership election and otherwise participate within the party alongside individual members; levy-paying trade union members will have to register to have these rights. The unions pushed through a concession, whereby this is not achieved solely at the expense of their representation, as was originally proposed. The last-ditch deal allows registered supporters, once their numbers reach 50,000, to gain 3% of electoral college votes, with 1% taken from each of the three former electoral college components: individual members within Constituency Labour Parties; those paying the political levy in the trade unions; and MPs. If registered supporter numbers increase beyond the minimum 50,000, the proportion of electoral college votes they control will rise progressively up to a maximum of 10%, to be allocated on the same basis: ie, a 30:30:30:10 split.

In addition to the dilution of membership rights, both individual and trade union, another step away from democracy was contained in the document. The longstanding right of Labour MPs to elect members of the shadow cabinet is now abolished. Instead, the Labour leader while in opposition now has the right to select whomsoever he wishes independently of any Labour body, just as a Labour prime minister already does. This further adds to the dictatorial powers of the leader, who, instead of acting like an elected monarch, should be accountable to and recallable by the NEC. And no-one should be fooled by all those full seats during such set-piece, key PR moments as the leader’s speech: officials will put anyone and her brother in empty ones to ensure the hall looks full. There were more media and PR people attending conference than delegates, which is nothing out of the ordinary these days.

Of course, given the way things are carved up in the Labour Party, neither CLPs nor affiliates were able to intervene openly to change Refounding Labour at conference; once again, no amendments were allowed. It was again ‘take it or leave it’ time. A minority of delegates followed the logic of opposition to these objectionable proposals, as well as to the undemocratic process as a whole, and voted against the entire document when it came to a card vote on the first day of conference.

The bitter pill had been sweetened for conference delegates by offering incentives. Constituencies will no longer have to pay a fee for the first delegates they send. In addition, local councillors and Young Labour will in future have representation at annual conference and distinct rights in leadership elections. But why should councillors – or MPs, for that matter – be granted special powers and rights? This is another example of the tail wagging the dog, since they allegedly represent us.

However, there may be some unintended positive consequences for party democracy. It all depends upon how members press the point. For it now may be possible, as a consequence of the rule changes brought in by Refounding Labour to win (its new name), for branches and constituencies to allow affiliate (eg, trade union levy-paying) members, as well as the new registered supporters, to attend their meetings.

Unable to amend it, on the usual ‘take it or leave it’ basis CLPs overwhelmingly supported the final NEC-approved version of Refounding Labour to win: voting was 112,286 in favour, with 14,842 against. Affiliates, which numerically are mainly the trade unions, voted 2,459,269 for and only 11,822 against.

The high point for real debate at conference has to be its fringe meetings, where all sorts of groups – within and without the Labour Party – vied for delegates’ attention at lunch breaks and at the end of each day. Single-issue campaigns provided plenty of scope to discuss questions where debate was squashed out of the agenda in the conference hall itself.

The best fringe meeting that I attended was organised by the Labour Representation Committee in a nearby hotel. Over 200 comrades crammed into a sweltering room to hear platform speakers John McDonnell, Tony Benn, PCS’s Mark Serwotka and Unite’s Len McCluskey lambast politicians of all stripes, including Labour ones. The speakers’ main focus was on the forthcoming strike on November 30, but they and contributors from the floor called for the resistance to the cuts to be built beyond one-day events and to include civil disobedience.

Comrade McDonnell stated that class struggle is “at its bitterest for generations”, while Len McCluskey wanted the widest “coalition of resistance”. Mark Serwotka was very clear: “We should say there should be no public spending cuts … We should say we’re not having austerity.” Were the mood and tenor of the LRC meeting to have been that of even a large minority at the conference itself, there could have been a direct challenge to the pro-capitalist cliques that currently vie at the top of the party to control it.

As well as those organised by unions and other groups from the working class movement, there were fringes put on not just by charities, but by overtly pro-capitalist bodies. The very well-funded Blairite Progress group held several, in conjunction with ‘partners’ such as the Chemical Industries Association; Progress had a platform speaker at one fringe meeting from Nato’s London Information Network on Conflicts and State-building. One of the Fabian Society fringes was supported by EEF, “the manufacturers’ organisation”. Businesses and commercial organisations holding fringe meetings included Aviva, the Nuclear Industry Association, Reuters, The Times and The Observer.

Refound Labour as a permanent united front of the working class

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