- Salman Shaheen (principal speaker)
- Pete Green (principal speaker)
- Edmund Potts (principal speaker)
- Phil Pope (treasurer)
- Nick Wrack (national secretary)
- Matthew Caygill (national council)
- Will McMahon (principal speaker)
- Pete McLaren (media officer)
- Tom Walker (media officer)
- Terry Conway (nominating officer)
- Luke Cooper (NC, London)
- John Tummon (NC, North-West)
- John Penney (NC)
- Tony Free (principal speaker and NC)
- Kathrine Brannan (NC)
- Steve Freeman (NC)
These are the questions posed by the Communist Platform to those standing for the leadership
1. Do you publicly criticise all calls, manifestos and organisations calling for a British withdrawal from the European Union? Will you publicly advocate the programme of establishing working class power throughout Europe?
2. Do you oppose the idea of forming some kind of bloc within Left Unity that includes the social-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty? Should those who support the pro-Nato government of Petro Poroshenko, who refuse to condemn the 2003 invasion of Iraq or the possibility of an Israeli nuclear strike against Iran, be considered legitimate bloc partners?
3. Do you give priority to Left Unity or the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition? Do you agree that Tusc is a diversionary Labour Party mark II project?
4. Do you support openness and accountability? Do you consider reporting and commenting on Left Unity officers, branches, regions, national council, conferences, etc, perfectly normal and acceptable? Will you publicly condemn the suspension of Laurie McCauley? Do you demand his immediate reinstatement?
5. Do you disassociate yourself from those who resort to violence or threats of violence within the left? Will you insist that anyone found guilty of making such threats issue a public apology, no matter how belatedly?
6. Do you think Left Unity should draw a clear red line between the socialist politics of the working class and the petty bourgeois politics of the Green Party?
7. Do you support the call for a Left Unity constitutional conference in 2015?
In this article in the Weekly Worker, Paul Demarty examines the responses and wonders why many are so reluctant to respond in good faith.
Salman Shaheen (principal speaker)
1. I am against Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. I would like to see a united Europe and a united world without borders. But we’re a long way from that and the EU we have today, for all its promise, is a neoliberal institution. You only have to look at what they’re doing to the Greek people to see that. I would like to see a Europe refounded on the principles of people not profit and run by and for the 99% not the 1%. In many modern anti-capitalist movements, the language people use and connect with is different from that which Marx might have employed in the 19th Century, but the meaning is essentially the same. If you’re not an owner of the means of production and all you have to sell is your labour, as Marx would have said, you’re working class. That’s about 99% of us I’m sure. That’s who I want running Europe. And I think we need to achieve that by working with our sister parties in other EU countries to make change, not retreating inwards, turning our backs on our brothers and sisters in other countries because they don’t happen to live on our island, or putting up walls to keep immigrants out because we put the interests of working class people in one country above the workers of the world.
2. I’m not all that familiar with the policies of the AWL to be honest. But speaking personally, I was drawn into left-wing politics through the anti-war movement over a decade ago. Opposition to imperialist misadventures is at the heart of activism for me. Every fear we had about the Iraq War has turned out to be true, and then some. I don’t think anyone who supported the invasion of Iraq was on the right side of history, frankly.
3. I have been committed to building Left Unity from the outset and am not a member of any of TUSC’s constituent organisations, so I’m firmly in the LU camp as far as priorities are concerned. The fact that you can’t actually join TUSC itself is a problem. I wish candidates standing under the LU-TUSC joint name every success, but with TUSC really existing only at election times, I’m not convinced it’s the right way forward. We need a party that campaigns all year round, that is actively standing with the poorest and most vulnerable people in every one of their struggles, founded on the democratic principle of one member one vote. That’s Left Unity. We’re still small and we still have a lot to do, but I think we’ve made a good start.
4. Openness and accountability are important for all democratic organisations. I’m not familiar with the specifics of Laurie’s case and personally I think that’s a healthy state of affairs for a democratic organisation. This is one for the disputes and appeals committee, not a principal speaker.
5. I am, in almost all circumstances, against violence full stop. And yes, that means I’m against the proliferation of weapons, be they nuclear or small arms. If that makes me a coward, so be it Jack Conrad! I’m sticking to my guns, as it were.
6. I find this a curious question. If we start from the idea that everyone except owners of the means of production are essentially working class, how does that make the Green Party petty bourgeois? Unless perhaps they’re a party entirely composed of small shopkeepers. I’m not sure this kind of language is really that relevant to single mothers struggling with the bedroom tax, disabled people who’ve been sanctioned or people trying to make ends meet on minimum wage. I think we need to work with the Greens and others on the left where we have goals in common. The most obvious starting point in the current climate is opposition to austerity. Where Greens have implemented austerity policies, as in Brighton, we need to criticise them – as indeed their own MP Caroline Lucas did. I don’t agree with every single word of the Green Party manifesto, but there’s much to admire in it and much we have in common with them. Far more than we have in common with the Labour Party, even though they still sing the Red Flag at their conferences.
7. Left Unity’s constitution is clearly a work in progress. It’s a very good start for a party built organically from the bottom up, but there’s plenty that no doubt needs amending.
Pete Green (principal speaker)
I am reluctant to respond to these questions from the Weekly Worker, given your despicable attack on Salman Shaheen last year, when you used the adjective “cowardly” to describe his public rejection of a call to arm the workers, when what was at issue was simply a political difference.
The bombastic language deployed by Jack Conrad in his contextualisation of the questions (“Bonapartist”, etc), a language which in the hands of Marx was both fresh and comprehensible, in the Weekly Worker, as elsewhere on the supposedly revolutionary left, has become cliché-ridden and unreadable. These fossilised thought processes will eventually consign the CPGB to the dustbin of history in what I hope is a not too distant future (although I exempt the work of Moshé Machover from this indictment).
My strategic perspective for Left Unity is to break out of the ghetto of the far left, as Syriza and Podemos in their different ways have succeeded in doing. The politics of the CPGB would keep us there indefinitely, fantasising about the day when the masses break in, sign up to the maximum programme and rescue us from oblivion.
That said, I agreed to respond, lest you embarrass me, as you have the estimable Dave Landau (who wrote our excellent brochure on migration), by including me on your list of recommendations. So in order as presented:
1. I have opposed calls to leave the EU, but voted not to support Britain joining the euro, and for a socialist Europe, not a neoliberal one (and am supporting the Left Platform within Syriza on the question of Greece being prepared if necessary to leave the euro zone). In Britain, however, the critical issue in a referendum would be no alignment with the UK Independence Party and the nationalist right.
2. I am adamantly opposed to any bloc with the AWL, primarily because they defend the Zionist project in Israel. (Is this a reference to a joint candidacy of a Workers Power member and an AWL member for the trade union officer post? I am shocked by that).
3. My priority is Left Unity, of course. I do not, however, deploy the Life of Brian language of the second sentence in this question and have supported standing joint Left Unity-Tusc candidates in the forthcoming national election.
4. I certainly support openness and accountability. On the issue of McCauley’s suspension, I neither condemn it nor support it, as this is the responsibility of the disputes committee – national officers quite correctly have no role in this. I do, however, condemn any failure to respect elementary standards of confidentiality in reporting on the personal circumstances of individuals within Left Unity.
5. Yes to both questions.
6. I do not accept the terms in which this question is posed, but the answer is no. In what sense are the Greens’ politics more petty bourgeois (and what does that mean?) than Labour’s? I am in favour of differentiating between Greens such as Caroline Lucas (one of the most consistently leftwing MPs in parliament) and those who support cuts in services or tougher immigration controls. In Hackney North I will vote for Dianne Abbott, but elsewhere I could vote Green.
7. Yes, in principle, but only if a delegate conference. I agree the constitution is dysfunctional in many respects. But I would not scrap guaranteed quotas for women, as the CPGB would, and I would want to exclude from standing in internal elections CPGB, or any other, members who have failed to pay subs for months and then pay a minimum 50p at the last minute.
Edmund Potts (principal speaker)
In general I welcome opportunities for dialogue and discussion, where all involved have the opportunity to ask questions and debate points. In terms of these elections, I am standing on the basis of my publicly available statement, and, of course, my various other contributions (practical and political) to Left Unity. I think these are sufficient for members of LU to decide whether or not to vote for me.
Phil Pope (treasurer)
I quite agree with you that the national council or executive committee should elect national officers rather than they being directly elected by the membership.
If elected as treasurer I will try to focus on improving the administration of LU, making our finances fully transparent to the membership, and supporting the EC in its work. I am not interested in using the treasurer role to push a particular political view within the EC, as I think the direction of the organisation should come from the proportionally elected members of the NC. The most important thing we can do at the moment is increase the size of LU and encourage a higher level of political debate between members.
1. I think that Britain should remain within the EU. However, I think there are other areas of policy that we should prioritise campaigning on, such as housing, public services, living wage, etc.
2. I’m glad that some members of the AWL are participating in LU, but I disagree with them on many political issues.
3. I am active in building LU, but welcome cooperation with Tusc where possible. I don’t think either LU or Tusc are yet the new mass party that we want, and to write off either organisation at this stage would be counterproductive.
4. I am absolutely in favour of openness and accountability, and suggested a number of improvements to the disputes process to conference. We should have freedom of speech and conduct political debates in public forums, either on the internet or in a paper or newsletter. I don’t know the full details of Laurie McCauley’s suspension, but from what I gather it seems disproportionate at least. I hope he can be reinstated soon.
5. Violence is clearly unacceptable.
6. Whilst I think we need to keep our own distinctive politics, there are many in the Green Party who can be won to a socialist position. Whilst there seems little point in attempting any national agreement with the GP, there may be areas of the country where LU can work alongside Greens and pull them leftward.
7. Many members (including myself) submitted constitutional amendments to the last conference, but, although conference clearly voted that these should be taken, the conference arrangements committee closed the conference without them being taken. Our current organisation is top-heavy and most members have no way of knowing what is happening at a national level.
Nick Wrack (national secretary)
My policies are clearly expressed in my two election statements and in the many articles that I have written on the issue of building a mass socialist party (carried in the Weekly Worker and elsewhere).
Matthew Caygill (national council)
The CPGB list of questions gives us a good opportunity to examine the pathology of this small revolutionary group. To start with the good things: they are clearly in favour of general human liberation, rooted in a tradition drawn from the contribution of the Marxist movement.
However, there is a downside, exemplified by the rather peculiar second question. Is the AWL even in Left Unity? Not where I am. Who is proposing a ‘bloc’ with them? Is this an attack on Workers Power or Socialist Resistance? Who knows, who cares – except those that think the main purpose of Left Unity is a place for small revolutionary groups to fight out their political differences. And that seems to be the CPGB vision.
For the majority of us Left Unity is an attempt to build something that is neither of the discredited, bankrupt, vanguardist left or of a social democracy that has given up in favour of variants of neoliberalism. We want a broad party that is environmentalist, socialist and feminist. We don’t want to provide a site for ‘revolutionaries’ to show off in front of each other, fight it out, maybe pick up a few more members.
And that is precisely what the CPGB want. They are on record as criticising ‘halfway houses’ and calling for the unity of Marxists into one party. If they had the courage of their convictions they would be in Tusc fighting for their beliefs there. The consequence of this is that where they have any strength of numbers life for others in Left Unity is miserable. They drive people away, and they don’t care. Look at Sheffield for confirmation of this. They aren’t in the business of building Left Unity. They wouldn’t particularly care if Left Unity failed – they would relish it as evidence that only their nostrums work.
1. I’ve long been against British withdrawal from the European Union and for working with other lefts towards the transformation of the EU. Syriza’s experiences in the austerity machine of the euro zone is a challenge to this, so I would call for more debate on the question – not the assertion of dogmas or irrelevant abstractions.
3. Of course, I give priority to Left Unity, but we have to work with Tusc – in ways that will strengthen Left Unity.
4. I do support openness and accountability. However, this has to be balanced with confidentiality. I haven’t heard the details of the McCauley case and would only say that our processes have to be timely. However, the Weekly Worker’s reporting is frequently imbalanced and unobjective, teetering into being dishonest and hypocritical, and revealing the CPGB’s bad faith. It’s been a good way to destroy any relationships of trust.
5. I do disassociate from violence and threats, and think establishing some sort of code of conduct is important. Bullying also needs to be considered. The Weekly Worker is an instrument for the bully.
6. I don’t think I’ve got enough words to answer this. The question reveals a very wooden and dogmatic understanding of Marxism. Lenin would have laughed at you. The short answer is: ‘No, the question is stupid.’ Dialectics, not crude binary oppositions, please.
7. I agree that the constitution doesn’t work well – it is designed for a much larger party and has failed to provide a framework for effective leadership. I would keep the gender balance component. So I am not opposed to a constitutional conference, perhaps on the basis of branch delegations. But we need to ensure that branches work fairly.
Will McMahon (principal speaker)
Thank you for your letter. I have described my political position most fully in my LU election statement and the link to articles at the end. That is more than enough in my view.
Pete McLaren (media officer)
I do not think this is the best way to encourage dialogue between the various parts of the left. That is far better done in an open forum without somewhat subjective questions. You are fully aware of my political record and my political activities, in recent years as an officer of Tusc and a national council/executive member of Left Unity.
In these internal elections for LU, I am standing on the statements that have been published officially, and I see no reason to add to those at this point in time.
Tom Walker (media officer)
1. Hello, is it me you’re looking for?
2. Do you believe in life after love?
3. Is there life on Mars?
4. Do you really want to hurt me?
5. How soon is now?
6. What’s love got to do with it?
7. Why does it always rain on me?
Terry Conway (nominating officer)
No, I won’t be answering the Communist Platforms questions. I also think it’s a little strange to suggest that answers to any seven questions would be the sum of anyone’s political positions!
Luke Cooper (NC, London)
1. I’m against the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union. We need to build a pan-European movement of European left parties pushing for a democratic, ecological and socialist Europe. There would be huge and wholly negative implications for EU migrants living here were Britain to leave; not to mention the millions more who would be denied the right to live and work in this country. In the current political context in Britain a ‘progressive’ campaign for an EU exit is a logical and political impossibility. This debate should not be conflated with a Greek exit from the euro zone, but unfortunately it frequently is by left supporters of a British exit from the European Union.
2. I’m against forming a bloc with the AWL in Left Unity. But this is an odd question to ask, given that, as far as I am aware, no one has suggested doing this. I’ve been told that the AWL are calling for a blanket vote for Labour in the general election. They are neither active in Left Unity nor supportive of an alternative to Labour. It’s a non-problem.
3. We need a democratic, grassroots political party of the left – not a lash-up of old sectarian groups without any internal democracy for members and supporters. The Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party have an appalling record on rape and sexual violence and are an obstacle to the building of a radical left party. I voted against seeking unity with Tusc on the local as well as the national level at the November conference.
4. The Weekly Worker is an unserious gossip rag; the CPGB is a rotten Leninist sect. Like the vast majority of Left Unity members I value openness and accountability at every level of the party.
5. No idea what this is referring to.
6. I support the call to back anti-austerity candidates in the election. The Greens are a progressive, anti-austerity party and their policies are much more closely aligned to working class interests than the neoliberal Labour Party. In lieu of a Left Unity candidate, I will be voting for the Greens in Islington South and Finsbury this May. We can combine criticism of the Greens – for example their role on Brighton council – with backing them when they support anti-austerity, working class campaigns.
7. I haven’t heard or read of a specific call for a Left Unity constitutional conference. Amendments are certainly needed to the constitution – for example, to simplify the disputes and appeals procedure and establish a code of conduct for party members – but I assume this can be done at annual conference.
John Tummon (NC, North-West)
1 The EU is a capitalist club that insists that only up to 40% of GDP can be spent on the public sector, but leaving it is the rightwing argument for opposing the EU directive on working hours and various other slightly progressive rulings the right does not like. The SP’s reason for being behind No2EU has now been ditched by its alliance with the SWP in Tusc, so the ‘British jobs for British workers’ rhetoric of Gordon Brown is no longer in play. But we could still work towards international solidarity even outside the EU, so I don’t really care much about the ‘Should we stay or should we go?’ argument between capitalists dependent on the EU for imports and exports and rightwing anti-worker and anti-immigrant sentiment.
2. Not for me, but if they want a tendency, let’s see who supports it.
3. Tusc is a retread of everything that has failed before.
4. The LU leadership must be accountable. I have worked on the appeals committee and found that two comrades should have their suspensions lifted – both contested by the leadership. I will only comment on individual cases I have investigated.
5. No – some behaviour is so bad that it provokes violence either of the word or deed and everything must be assessed by its context. I am not for absolute rules and detest the concept of zero tolerance.
6. No – the Greens have very similar policies to LU; both are broad parties, but LU is far smaller. The Greens are progressive.
7. Depends what is behind the call.
John Penney (NC)
2. This is simply a slanderous misrepresentation of another revolutionary socialist organisation which is also a supporting component part of our Left Unity coalition. How does this sort of sectarian tosh help build a broad, radical, socialist party ?
3. Yes, Tusc is a diversionary project – a front for the SPEW and SWP. But some Tusc supporters do appear to be putting in some good work for Left Unity nevertheless. Is the ‘entrist’ aspect of Tusc supporter participation in our Left Unity project any more dodgy that the ultra-leftist entrist motivation of, for instance, the CPGB and Workers Power comrades?
4. Yes to the first part, and ‘Don’t know enough about this branch dispute’ to the second.
5. Yes, of course – but the particular interpersonal dispute behind this question is an old, petty storm in a teacup that serious socialists need to be mature enough to ‘get over’. Bearing petty grudges forever is a sad feature of far-left sects.
7. No – our constitution may well be unwieldy and flawed, but we really have to just live with it for a while yet, and concentrate on doing real political activity. Endless conferences are the delight only of inveterate far leftie sects.
What about another key question then? Ie,
8. Are you a member of Left Unity for the long term to seriously build a radical left, broadly based mass party, or are you just on a short-term ‘political raid’ to strut your rigid ultra-left political positions for your tiny, ‘revolutionary’, left sect, cause as much disruption as possible within Left Unity, and hope to leave the organisation, or be chucked out, having gained nothing but a handful of extra members from the wreckage?
Tony Free (principal speaker and NC)
You have asked seven questions which I will answer honestly and I would ask one question back.
1. Yes, I am opposed to a British withdrawal from the EU. I believe that we should be part of a Left wing group openly within the EU to represent the interests and aspirations of working people all over Europe.
2. I do not support the idea of political blocs within Left Unity. We must develop together not as different factions straining against each other.
3. I support Left Unity. I support LU/Tusc candidates, because that is what conference decided. Given the choice, I would not wish to be in alliances or electoral agreements with any other party.
4. I support openness and accountability at every level within Left Unity. We can certainly do better than we are currently, but we are still in our infancy. With respect to the issue of the suspension of Laurie McCauley, I do not know enough of the facts to make an informed decision. The writings of the press are not sufficiently reliable information.
5. I will never support violence or bullying at any level in the party. In the event that a member is found to be guilty of these things then there should be resulting actions, starting at the least with an apology. In serious cases suspension or expulsion.
6. Left Unity is a party in its own right and should be seen as a totally separate entity to the Green Party (and other parties).
7. I would support a Left Unity conference in 2015 to fully consider the constitution and policy. We need to stand together and create a policy that all members will feel part of. Any constitutional changes should be subject to an all-member vote.
Extra question: Do you think it is healthy to have a political group like the communist group within the party?
Definitely not. Left Unity is evolving into a political party in its own right. The ideals and philosophy will be moulded by the beliefs of the whole membership. We must change our views as a group and not by subversion. To have a faction whose purpose is to drag Left Unity towards a specific philosophy is destructive, as was witnessed in the 1980s with Militant and Labour. Labour then continued on a downward spiral. Caucuses are obviously essential, as they exist to ensure that our policy is fully inclusive and catering for a full range of people.
Kathrine Brannan (NC)
The CPGB’s interrogation of internal election candidates is to be lauded. The selection of the number seven (whose Hebrew root means to ‘be complete’) reveals the sagacity of the interrogators. This is the number of days needed to create the world; the number of days in a week; and, of course, the number of seven deadly things, which all, even children, should remember by heart. Sometimes these are called Capital things – a reference to the original written source of the teachings, yet, as some will argue, we will not find all these seven things in the original manuscript. It is no matter; for these doctrines shall rely on the authority of tradition and on those to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revolution is entrusted.
In this list of seven deadly things we observe that ‘all things great and small’ are covered. We speak of anger and of confession, of truth and dissembling, and of positions proffered by these teaching authorities, against which we must all humbly measure our lesser selves. Even those poor souls, who, for whatever reason, are not as yet baptised in the watery currents of the British left shall not be given indulgence. Those unable to immediately distinguish the good section from the bad section, the treacherous member from the loyal, shall not be outcast, but mercifully excluded or purged from communion with the higher authorities until such time as they, too, can emulate more purified positions.
There is one deadly thing which is not mentioned here by the wholly erudite authorities of the CPGB. That deadly thing is called ‘pride’ or the ‘haughty eyes’. Pride is, of course, the root of all the other deadly things. Haughty eyes look condescendingly on people. They look at others as inferior in an arrogant way and see themselves as superior to all others. As stated earlier, this deadly thing subsumes all other deadly things put forward in the questions, permeates them and, therefore, we must assume, the CPGB does not feel it necessary to mention specifically, as it is already obvious to all.
Steve Freeman (NC)
I am standing in the general election for the Republican Socialists in Bermondsey, and as a member of Left Unity I am standing for the national council. My responses to your questions are as follows:
1. I oppose calling for British withdrawal from the EU now and will say so in my election campaign. I will publicly advocate the full democratisation of the EU by establishing a European federal social republic. I am in favour of working class power throughout the world, including Europe.
2.We can consider ‘blocs’ or alliances on any issue which serves and advances working class interests. Who we can or should form blocs with depends on the issues. I do not rule out a bloc with AWL, but not on the issues you outline. Obviously I won’t join any bloc to invade Iraq or stay there, support the capitalist government in Russia or Ukraine or bomb Iran.
3.I am standing against a Tusc-Left Unity candidate in Bermondsey. So I am giving priority to opposing this bloc publicly. Of course, Labour Party mark I is the main enemy. But it is a complete diversion to set up another bloc or mark II with Labourite politics. Tusc is misleading the working class by promoting economism or ‘trade union socialism’, which Lenin fought tooth and nail to oppose. Left Unity has become the tail wagged by the Tusc dog. In Bermondsey there will be a Labour mark I and mark II. So will the CPGB support one of them or a Republican Socialist?
4.Yes to part 1. Part 2 is really about the Weekly Worker reporting on these things. Yes, it is pretty normal and only to be expected. Is it acceptable? Not if you don’t agree with what is said. Then it might be seen as untruthful, hated and unacceptable. Should Laurie be suspended for writing something others hated? No (qualified, only because I can’t remember the details of Laurie’s case). It seems a long time ago. So justice delayed is justice denied.
5.Of course I am not in favour of the use of violence or threats within the left. But context has to be taken into account. Somebody being bullied or chased by a pack of hounds might threaten to hit back. In general it is good practice to issue an apology. This sounds suspiciously like the case when John Pearson threatened to lampoon the CPGB. To “insist” that John apologise would be meaningless. But it would be a good idea for him to apologise, so we didn’t have to waste time answering this question.
6.I think the line is there. Just point it out. The question is a bit vague.
7.This is not the priority. LU is too inward-looking and has spent massive amounts of time on constitutional issues, including safe spaces. What has never been discussed is the UK constitution, which is far more important for the working class. It is true the LU constitution needs reform, but a special conference on it would kill LU by confirming it was an inward-looking sect.