On Thursday, I attended my first meeting of the new Left Unity group. The gathering – refreshingly organised in a circle with all views given time to air – drew a diverse crowd of people from all manner of political backgrounds, but if there was one common theme to them it was homelessness.
Socialists made homeless by the failures of RESPECT and the SA to unite the left; ex-Swappies fleeing a scandal-riven SWP in search of a new party; revolutionaries who could never feel at home in a reformist Old Labour, let alone the party gutted by Blair and turned into a neoliberal husk.
The sense of homelessness clung heavily to the central debate: why is there no party to the left of Labour and what are we going to do about it?
With so many, myself included, burned time and again from throwing themselves too naively into the forge of failed projects to unite the myriad tiny squabbling groups of Britain’s left, there seemed little enthusiasm to push the group into quickly becoming a new party of the working classes, and quite rightly.
After all, are thousands of single mothers, minimum wage cleaners, and unemployed jobseekers just waiting for us to hoist the red banner above our heads and sound the clarion call to lead the masses into a brave new dawn of the classless free society? Or are they worried about cuts, housing, healthcare, education and simply surviving the onslaught of Tory austerity?
While the discussion occasionally slipped into 19th century Marxist terminology, for the most part it remained tuned in and relevant to the everyday concerns of Britain’s most vulnerable people.
And this is where I think Left Unity can provide the greatest value through its website and growing network, by highlighting, supporting and linking together the various and vital local and national campaigns to resist the government’s punishing cuts.
If the left is to prove necessary to working people, it cannot just throw up temporary electoral alliances or front campaigns designed to boost party membership and sell papers. It needs to matter to people. It needs to join the struggle with them, never on top of them. It must be a resource for them, not a speaker’s podium.
Some discussion was had over the exact wording of the group’s mission statement, but as far as I was concerned, it didn’t really matter. No one’s ever going to agree 100% of the time, so let’s just sign it and get on with the things that are important.
At the end of a largely productive two hour meeting, someone volunteered the question “How many supporters of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity are Counterfire members?”
The question was quickly laughed off and the meeting drawn to a swift conclusion. There’s always one.
Whether Left Unity ever becomes a party or an electoral alliance in its own right remains a question for the future. For now, the project has a vital task ahead of it and I’m enthusiastic to see how it will go about tackling it.