Steve Freeman (Left Unity Party and RISE) has been conducting a campaign in England and Wales, along with members of the Republican Socialist Alliance, to get socialists to understand the significance of the Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ and the need to break away from the British Left’s traditional unionist politics. Steve has fought consistently to try to make the LUP an anti-Unionist internationalist party.
One of the consequences of the LUP leadership’s failure to adopt this course of action during the Scottish independence referendum was the loss of nearly all their Scottish members. Now that a bigger Left unionist pole of attraction has emerged in Jeremy Corbyn, the LUP is faced with the loss of most of its remaining members to the Labour Party. This confirms that the LUP leadership’s Left unionism is a reflection of that of the Labour Party and its accommodation to the UK state.
Here are three letters Steve has written in the pages of Weekly Worker.
In Weekly Worker (1093) Peter Manson reported on the London Left Unity members aggregate. He says “Steve Freeman preferred to talk about matters other than the question of Labour. He thought it was more important that our policies on democracy, Scotland and Wales, and the European Union were correct”.
Some clarification is needed here. I was discussing how to fight Labour, not the incessant chatter of comrades fawning over or liquidating into the Labour Party. Peter is right that I didn’t mention ‘Labour this’, ‘Labour that’ and ‘the next thing for Labour’. I leave all that to the CPGB and all those who desperate to join the Labour Party.
I spoke about the political issues and policies the working class needed to build a militant party ready and able to fight the Tories (remember them?) and Labour on democracy, Scotland and Wales, and the European Union. On these issues, so important for the ruling class, both parties line up on the same page.
My point was about getting LU policies correct. This is the litmus test. Has LU got anything useful, important and distinct to say against the Tory-Labour consensus? Too many LU members have spent too much time “talking” about how best to ingratiate ourselves with the Labour Party, before throwing themselves under the Corbyn bandwagon. Weekly Worker has done much to encourage this mood of liquidationism.
Take for example the popular front extending from Cameron, via the Liberal Democrats, Corbyn, Labour, TUC, the Green Party to Left Unity to vote ‘Remain” in the EU referendum. How can Left Unity back Cameron’s negotiated pro-City and anti-worker deal?
We need a special meeting to review the policy as soon as Cameron’s negotiations are finished, and then get stuck in to a national referendum campaign. This will be more important for LU than a few local elections because it is a national electoral type campaign. A weak LU is suffering from too much localism.
Then we have Scotland and Wales where LU have been the feeblest of Unionists, refusing to criticise or oppose the Labour Party for defending Queen Anne’s anti-democratic Act of Union. How can anybody have confidence in a party so bereft of any commitment to fighting for popular sovereignty and self determination?
Finally LU seems very serious about debating its own constitution and its own governance and has no interest in the government and constitutional laws which enable millions of working class people to be robbed and oppressed ‘democratically’ and ‘legally’.
LU will never be fit to govern because it is not interested in government. It should be fighting to change the UK’s corrupt, broken and outdated ‘democracy’ in which government is run by the Crown on behalf of the City, with Westminster as an irrelevant side show like the European parliament.
Peter concludes, “Despite the fact he (me) had stood against the LU-backed candidate in last year’s general election, I thought the reception he received was strangely polite and receptive.” This paradox may be explained by the fact that LU members are more polite or more thoughtful than the CPGB credits them.
In the Bermondsey 2015 election, I stood as a republican socialist and anti-Unionist and was opposed by the Labourite TUSC. Left Unity simply fell in behind TUSC, backed by the CPGB supporting ‘economism’ and unionism against democracy and self determination. The CPGB claim I betrayed Left Unity and I claim they betrayed the programme of working class democracy.
I like to think that the idea of a militant republican socialist party, linked with the democratic revolution of 1649, is Left Unity’s Plan B. That was before Jeremy Corbyn blew Left Unity’s Plan A (Spirit of 45) out of the water and stole many LU members including all the LU candidates in South London. So Left Unity has lost Plan A and hasn’t found a Plan B. How long will this continue? Watch this space.
This letter was written in response to article by Peter Manson in issue 1090 of Weekly Worker at:- http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1090/things-dont-look-good/
Letter 2. Revolutionary (http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1090/letters/)
Left Unity Facebook page has seen a debate over a resolution changing the party’s position from left Unionism to anti-Unionist internationalism. The CPGB had opposed this resolution for LU conference. Then two CPGB members (Tina and Steve) claimed, incredibly, that their party was Anti-Union, citing a Weekly Worker article back in 2001.
Now that Corbyn has reclaimed Left Unity’s clothes this question has double importance for the survival of LU as an independent party with distinct politics. Unfortunately, the two key players in Left Unity, Socialist Resistance and the CPGB, are opposing the resolution with fatal consequences.
The resolution says “1. We recognise the Acts of Union bind England with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. 2. We call for the abolition of all the Acts of Union, thus ending all jurisdictions by the British Crown over the nations of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. 3. By ending all Acts of Union, the people of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, will be able to freely choose their future relations with the people of England, whether as independent nations, or in some form of voluntary federal relationship or within the European Union or in whatever form they decide”.
The Crown and the Union are fundamental to the constitution as indicated in the title “United Kingdom”. The British ruling class defends, promotes and supports its monarchy and its unionist laws. The monarchy, House of Lords and the Acts of Union were and remain undemocratic institutions with laws which are barriers to the sovereignty of the people.
Conservatism defends the status quo. Revolutionary democracy sweeps all into the dustbin of history. Lenin explains in Two Tactics of Social Democracy that “the revolutionary path is one of rapid amputation, which is least painful to the proletariat, the path of immediate removal of all that is putrescent, the path of least compliance with and consideration for the monarchy and the abominable, vile, rotten and noxious institutions that go with it”.
The 1707 Act of Union is precisely one of the rotten putrescent laws that “go with” the British Crown. It binds Scotland to England “forever”, securing Protestantism as the state religion, abolishing the Scottish parliament and giving the Scottish aristocracy and merchants’ access to the British colonies and the slave trade. Which part is relevant today?
The European Union enables the free movement of goods, services and people across the Scottish border. The ‘Little Britain Union’ is as obsolete as the Atlantic slave trade. The capitalist market is subsumed in a much bigger European Union. It makes little economic difference if Bavaria ‘leaves’ Germany, Catalonia ‘leaves’ Spain and Scotland ‘leaves’ the UK since all remain in a Union of five hundred and three million people. The difference is in politics.
The revolutionary class approaches the national question in a revolutionary way. Scotland is part of the process of democratic revolution across the UK and Europe. Scotland’s rebellion against the Acts of Union is directly connected not only to Wales and Ireland but England and the crisis in the EU. The revolutionary class is the only class capable of taking “the path of immediate removal of all that is putrescent” such as the monarchy and the Acts of Union.
The nationalists claim the abolition of the Acts of Union is for the Scottish working class acting alone. This is fundamentally wrong. It is a joint enterprise for the English and Scottish workers aided by the Irish, Welsh and wider European working class. The central problem is that the working class in England has not stepped up to the plate. The confusion in Left Unity is no more than a reflection of this conservatism.
The working class in England must play its revolutionary part. Unfortunately, in England the working class is weighed down by middle class conservatism, trade union economism, social reformism and the dead weight of the Labour Party and the trade union bureaucracy. This is why the fight in Left Unity is important in starting to break the working class in England away from conservative attitudes. Only then will it be possible to unite the English and Scottish workers in a joint expedition to eradicate these laws.
The British ruling class defends the British Union because their rule depends on it, both domestically and internationally. They depend on conservative ideas among the middle classes corrupting the working class. Fear of change is the main weapon in building a conservative majority. With a stake in the system, the middle classes are not going to gamble, not least given the dire warnings of economic disaster. The Tory press deployed this fear in the Scottish referendum and now against Corbyn.
Scotland’s ‘forced marriage’ to England includes no right to divorce. What will replace it? The resolution says that the people of Ireland, Scotland and Wales “will be able to freely choose their future relations with the people of England, whether as independent nations, or in some form of voluntary federal relationship or within the European Union or in whatever form they decide”.
Working class action to end the Acts of Union with immediate effect is self determination considered in a revolutionary way. No clinging to the past or nostalgia for the great days of the British Empire. Revolutionary self determination is about democratic revolution and international action by the working class in England and Scotland. The middle classes may pretend to support self determination but always in a conservative way, hedged by ifs, buts, maybes and probably nots. So Tina is probably right to claim that conservative self determination is in the CPGB programme.
Letter 3, Programme first (http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1088/letters/)
It was good to read Tony Greenstein (Weekly Worker 17 December 2015) promoting my campaign for anti-unionist republicanism in the 2015 Bermondsey election “as a considerable rebellion against the conservative monarchical forces of Left Unity” and comparing it with James Connolly’s Easter uprising against the British state.
With such high but, may I say with all due modesty, undeserved praise I have decided to offer Tony the job as my spin doctor to continue his good work. But I think he should reference Captain America and Iron Man to fully capture the scale of my heroic deeds. Alistair Campbell eat your heart out!
Even so, it doesn’t seem right to compare Connolly’s Irish Socialist Republican Party and Citizens Army in their rebellion against the United Kingdom with an election campaign which identified Left Unity as hardly republican and certainly not anti-unionist. The argument with Left Unity is not about the tactics of standing in elections versus armed uprisings. It is all about programme.
In 1916 the Labour Party programme was neither republican nor anti-unionist and supported imperialist wars. Connolly stood for the opposite. A river of blood divided these two positions. In 2016 the Labour Party remains committed to the UK constitution based on the monarchy and the union and has continued to back imperialist wars, despite the election of Corbyn and the over-excitement of the Trotskyist left.
My point about Left Unity and the CPGB’s communist platform is not that they should organise an armed uprising anytime soon, but rather that LU has no future unless it changes its programme and becomes an anti-unionist republican socialist party. Then, and only then, will LU be in a position to relate to Rise (Scottish Left Alliance). Then and only then will it place its relations with the Corbyn movement in England and Wales on a solid basis. LU will become a party with its own distinct democratic political objectives and not seem like some Corbyn groupee hanging around the stage door hoping for a sprinkle of star dust.
Tony makes one revealing gaff. He says that “when the political debate in this country (Peter please put “country” in italics) is focused on the battle between left and right within the Labour Party” Left Unity is finished. (“their day has long gone”). But what is meant by “this country”? Does he mean the UK, Britain or England (and Wales)? Scotland has different politics which I highlighted in Bermondsey. (As he missed the key point in my election campaign, he just lost the job as my spin doctor!)
However Tony does make a telling point that the CPGB is in a contradictory position over Labour and Left Unity by trying to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Programme must come before tactics. Which side of the river of blood should socialists stand, on the right bank with Kier Hardie and Ramsey McDonald’s Labourism or the left bank with James Connolly’s anti-unionist republican programme. No contest.
This article is a response to a letter from Tony Greenstein in issue 1087 (see http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1087/letters/)
Also see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/09/13/open-letter-to-rise-launch-form-republican-socialists-and-anti-unionists-in-england/ which has further links to Steve Freeman’s articles.
“One of the consequences of the LUP leadership’s failure to adopt this course of action during the Scottish independence referendum was the loss of nearly all their Scottish members.”
This is not accurate- LU lost 4 members in Scotland during this period because we did not support a YES vote . And even then 2 of the 4 who left were involved in a grievance/complaint that they had been involved or covered up sexist bullying in LU Glasgow. LU Scotland had 70 members on paper during this period. It is important to get the facts right and not just invent things to suit your narrative. The nationalist left have a habit of engaging in a lot of wishful thinking and invention as part of their project
With regard to Sandy McBurnie’s comment.
As you may know I tussled with Sandy over the entire year and a half of the existence of Left Unity in Scotland, before we were stunned into action by the outrageous “Socialism or Barbarism” leaflet he and his cohorts handed out at the RIC conference in Glasgow last November. In that one move he completely destroyed any credibility Left Unity had built up and we were subjected to the derision of the entire left in Scotland. It was a position we could not make a comeback from without the help and support of the National Committee of Left Unity, it should be no surprise that this has not materialised. I still maintain my position that he has brought the party into disrepute and that should be immediately suspended from any contact with Left Unity until a hearing reaches a decision. I have also called for him to be expelled from the party, since the leaflet was distributed in the name of Left Unity. I await a response from LU nationally with almost limitless patience!
One further point that may be of interest to you in terms of Sandy’s debating tactics. I don’t know where he learned to debate, but I doubt that there was any formal training. His first line of defence (if you make a good point in the debate) is to make personal attacks on you. I have told him repeatedly that it is unacceptable, that I would not allow such activity and would expel him from the debate if he continued and he still does it. The problem was that he had a majority within LU in Glasgow for almost a year, and it was only when they were outflanked by Mick Napier, Craig Lundie and others, that they took the huff and walked out to form “Left Unity Glasgow South”, a group that was never recognised by the original Glasgow branch, by the interim Scottish Regional committee or even by the National Committee. So, the important thing to note is that he will not take any notice of things like “rules of debate” and so on, but will just plough on (blinkers firmly in place) heading for the great socialist revolution that only he and his wee group can bring about.
The facts are that our only female activist member in Glasgow had complained to Joe in writing about sexist bullying in the Glasgow branch. Joe did not tell the membership of this complaint. The female member and her partner then resigned from the branch due to the failure to deal with the complaint of sexist bullying. When we found out about the complaint we were told that by the chair that the matter could not be investigated since the female member had now left. The chair then tried to push through a YES position in the branch since the two members who had left were supporters of a NO position. We refused to participate in the branch until the complaint of sexist bullying had been dealt with- the female member was not willing to attend the same branch meetings with the alleged bully. The female member lodged a complaint with LU central office re the bullying. In response Joe and Mick lodged a complaint on spurious grounds ( I was an overbearing personality !) against me but really because I had supported the female member in her demand that her complaint was dealt with seriously and not brushed under the carpet.
Sandy’s reply is taking us away well from the original point about the failure of the LUP in Scotland to address the issue of Scottish self-determination in a serious manner.
Nevertheless, Sandy raises another serious issue about sexist bullying, without telling is about how this was resolved. Since the specially created Glasgow South branch of the LUP had a monopoly on the Scottish delegates attending the LUP National Councils, it would be helpful if Sandy told us how this body (or its national disciplinary committee) dealt with this serious accusation. Given the record of sexist bullying and worse on the left (e.g. the ‘Comrade Delta’ case in the SWP), I hope that the Glasgow South delegates to the LUP pursued this further, and that Sandy can tell us how this was resolved.
Getting back to my original point, though, about the LUP’s failure to address the issue of Scottish self-determination, Sandy says that there were 70 people at the time in the LUP in Scotland and that only 4 resigned. Where did the remaining 66 stand over the issue of Scottish self-determination? I certainly saw no evidence in Edinburgh of any LUP campaign for a ‘No’ vote, which Sandy and Matthew in Glasgow clearly supported. What was the attitude of the LUP to the Red Paper Collective or George Galloway, who were also campaigning for a ‘Left’ unionist ‘No’? Nobody I know in Glasgow saw any public LUP campaign there either, other than a leaflet for a post-referendum meeting in Glasgow, handed out at the third RIC conference. I accepted the invite to this meeting, attended by 10 people, 3 of whom were from the RCN. I would have expected a lot more after the ‘No’ ‘victory, if there were 66 members in the LUP in Scotland.
Where are the 66 LUP members in Scotland today? Indeed where is the LUP in Scotland today?
The alleged bully and his supporters left LU so the matter was taken no further by the complaints commision. The remaining active members of LU campaigned for a No vote on a socialist basis- the fight for working class unity against the bosses. We of course supported the right of national self determination but argued against Scottish independence since it would entail the division of the working class in britain and the promotion of nationalism on both sides of the border. LU is now much reduced in size with much of the membership joining the labour party to support the Corbyn movement.
Thanks Sandy for informing us about the outcome of the sexist bullying accusations. It is worrying that there may still be somebody around who has yet to be held accountable for such actions. However, given their resignation from the LUP, Sandy is correct in saying that no further action could be taken within that organisation.
However, Sandy has not fully answered the questions I asked about the LUP-Scotland and LUP-Glasgow South campaigning during the Scottish independence referendum. Can he tell us what form this campaigning for a ‘No’ vote took? I never saw a public meeting or even a leaflet in Edinburgh, Scotland’s second largest city. This must surely have been home to some the remaining 66 members, whom Sandy claims for the LUP in Scotland.
I only heard about LUP (Scotland) and LUP Glasgow South, through those Republican Socialist Alliance members in England, who tried to raise the issue of support for Scottish independence and for RIC at an all-Britian LUP meeting. It was through their endeavours that I first came into contact with LUP members.
The prime purpose behind the creation of Glasgow South LUP seems to have been monopolise the delegates to all-Britain LUP bodies to prevent any support being given to the exercise of Scottish self-determination. The only reason any debate took place in some northern England LUP branches (which Sandy took part in) was because Scottish independence supporting LUP members had pushed the issue.
Furthermore, once the all-Britain (perhaps all-British would be more appropriate!) LUP failed to give its support, it was RSA members in LUP (along with those in other organisations) who internationalised the Scottish self-determination campaign, by bringing speakers from England and Ireland (Bernadette McAliskey) to London. (RIC had also invited English, Welsh and Irish speakers to its conferences and to its on-the-ground campaigning, as well as sending speakers to England, Dublin and Belfast, and a message of support to the ‘Go For It Scotland’ rally in Cardiff).
If Sandy’s ‘No’ position was genuinely based on maintaining workers’ unity across the UK, rather than just being another form of Left unionism (like the Red Paper Collective and Galloway’s ‘Just Say Naw’ tour), then I would have expected the ‘No’ supporting LUP members in Scotland to have been pushing for English, Welsh and Irish speakers to come to Scotland. But, as I have already stated, I didn’t even see Scottish LUP members in Edinburgh publicly campaigning for a ‘No’!
Sandy concludes by telling us some of these LUP member have now joined the Labour Party. Does that include Sandy and Matthew? Whether to not that is the case, can Sandy provide a link to where the the political arguments for any decisions by LUP members in Scotland to stay with the LUP or join Labour can be found?
I think there is some confusion reflected in your questions. The position of LU in Scotland was that LU would not take a position on the referendum and that members could campaign on either side as individuals. This decision was taken quite early on -once the referendum was announced. It was agreed that we did not want to split LU on the issue and we desired to build LU whatever the outcome of the ref vote because a british wide socialist party was needed. It was this position that the YES supporters were trying to overturn and the move to change LU position was led by a new member who joined LU with that aim- in my view. The alleged bully. We had to form a left unity Glasgow South branch for the reasons already mentioned. Glasgow North was free to continue to work and send delegates to LU conferences etc. Glasgow South did not campaign for a NO vote as we had members who supported YES and also abstain and we wanted to maintain the previous position of not splitting LU on the issue. I, and other NO supporters in GSLU, did go to meetings, write articles, take part in debates etc calling for a No vote as individuals. Those who were trying to get LU committed to a YES vote left LU when they were unsuccessful in that mission. I think they were operating on the old SWP principle of “control or destroy”
There is some useful information in this, which helps us to understand LUP (Scotland) position. As I interpret Sandy’s argument, the LUP (Scotland) saw Scottish independence referendum as a side issue, which socialists could take a stance on as individuals, one way or another, without it greatly affecting the work of the LUP.
It is not entirely clear, but Sandy seems to be suggesting that the LUP Glasgow South branch had to be formed as defensive measure, because of the behaviour of a sexist member. The member resigned before the LU’s disciplinary committee could address the matter. Why then could the Glasgow branch not be reunited, since prior to this member joining, Sandy says there had been overall agreement not to take a stance on the issue of Scottish independence?
At least 3 LUP members I have met in Scotland (plus one other, Joe Barr, whose position I only saw online) and over 70 former and current LUP members in England and Wales disagree with Sandy and the LUP Scotland (and later very narrowly, the all-Britain LUP) over the significance of the Scottish independence referendum. I recognise this political difference, and do not see it as a barrier to working with ‘No’ voters or ‘Abstainers’ on other issues.
However, I would have thought that LUP-Scotland, LUP-Glasgow South and Sandy would have made some assessment of the political impact of their ‘No position’ or ‘Vote No’ stances, after the referendum was over.
The logic of Sandy’s argument is that the ‘No’ vote represented a working class victory (although it was most strongly based amongst the middle class), so I would have thought that his position would have been strengthened within the LUP, and the LUP would have been persuaded that it was now better to build on this working class ‘victory’.
I suppose it would also be possible for those who argued that no position was necessary for the LUP during the referendum to say that now the issue was ‘resolved’, the LUP could continue to concentrate on anti-austerity politics. But again, I thought that some analysis of the new situation in Scotland and the prospects for the LUP would have been produced.
When I asked where are the LUP (Scotland) members today, Sandy says that some have joined the Labour Party. I asked if that included Matthew and himself? I received no answer.
Because this opens up another debate. Is the Labour Party (along with its Second Internationalist co-members) a likely vehicle to bring about socialism? Or does that need an independent working class party?
There are of course specific variations on this in Scotland. Is a party led by ‘One Nation’ Kezia Dugdale ever likely to regain credibility with the majority of the working class in Scotland; and is a British Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell (who both seem utterly bemused by the situation in Scotland) ever likely to reverse the depths to which the previous Blair/Brown/Miliband leaderships took the party?