( Coming from many quarters of the left the organisers are “united in our determination to combine our strengths”. They hope to “open a debate”. Chris Strafford in the Weekly Worker asks “what is the point?” of this. Bruce Robinson of the AWL notes that the Convention is designed to “avoid controversy”. Indeed apart from rallying the committed, attracting (?) new blood, and having face-to-face discussions – not such bad ideas – it is unclear what the goal is. The final session is named “Question Time for the Left.” The BBC programme of that name is a platform for the loud-mouthed, the know-alls, and the – interesting – know somethings. Select your own featured speakers to fit that description. Only the most ecumenical will foresee much value in George Galloway or Lindsey German’s perspectives.
The hubris staring Brown in the face after a decade of overweening self-confidence in his own merits and the virtues of the market economy overshadows everything. As a response it is surely important to discuss a socialist economic project. From the global re-regulation of finance and banking, we ought to look at a European-wide strategy to bring (first) utilities and public transport under social ownership, and an equally cross-Continental centralisation of upgraded social rights and benefits. Brown’s market state is uniquely vulnerable to the banking and credit crisis through its dependence on private finance, and (incompetent) private contractors. Instead of farming out services (in the NHS for example) to instruments like problem-ridden Equity Funds, renewed publicly funded Welfare institutions need to be expanded to cope with the existing inequality and potential economic disaster. To propel this we have to have strong trade unions with expanded rights.
No doubt there will be many at Manchester with their own ideas on these topics. Not to mention others, from feminism, anti-racism, local government, anti-war action and ecology. The Socialist Movement published nearly two decades back still useful documents on many of these subjects – indicating how much we have retreated in the intervening years.
Anyway, this may not be welcome (hah!). But like the Ancient Mariner collaring the Wedding Guest I would like to tell the Convention a few things. Let’s clear the decks of a few albatrosses, and if we have to do penance for this, so be it.
To begin with, Nick Wrack of Respect Renewal is right to say that, The experience of the Socialist Labour Party, the Socialist Alliance, the Scottish Socialist Party and, latterly, the split in Respect would make the most optimistic exponent of left unity reach for the nearest barge pole.” The fall-out from this squabbling has not gone away (nor the guilty parties held to account). Nevertheless an inability to win large-scale political (as opposed to union) support is common to all the left. Inside the Labour Party John McDonnell has not made great headway either. Next, a major unresolved issue is the failure of the Respect/Left List factions to confront their own communalist and opportunist alliance with cross-class Muslim notables and Islamist groups. This has been combined with covering for Islamicist bodies violently opposed to the most minimal of progressive politics and human rights. Domestically there has been an inability to build a democratic programme axed around the kind of secular equality which can confront communitarians and racists. Finally, the Convention’s call for serious thinking makes no sense if the left jumps, without some of this, at the latest get-rich-quick scheme: a turn to the Green Party, whose identity as “on the left” is not at all clearly established in the eyes of many of us. There’s a lot to say on this, but my glimmering eye fades and I turn away – for now.