Left Unity: Two steps forward, one step back.

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Left Unity’s internal elections are fast approaching, the yearly elections we have to stop the kind of cult worship, and long standing power-grabs that can and have existed in the past. I would encourage everyone to get actively involved, the more new people we can get standing for positions the better, but not only do we need to encourage those who are new to politics to get engaged, we need to support them – politics and especially the left can be quite a scary place.

While the officers have done some great things this past year, building a party is no easy task, there have been mistakes made, and there have been allegations thrown around. Words all too familiar to anyone that has been on the left for more than a day, undemocratic, Stalinist, conspiracies, you know how the list goes on and on.

I can’t help but think this is part of the internalised culture that exists within the left, a kind of internal paranoia, scepticism, and cynicism. Where every mistake is seen as an intentional act of power hungry megalomania, or when a certain decision doesn’t happen in the way we want it to, rather than the fault be within incompetence or political difference, it is calculated political manoeuvrings or subverting the will of the party.

I won’t be going into detail about each and every issue or allegation that has been hurled around this past year, instead I think all of us need to have a steadfast resolve in improving the parties infrastructure, to improving our internal democracy, transparency and accountability.

Some have abandoned Left Unity and wrote it off as a failure, which to me seems a bit short sighted when we haven’t even had our second election. The party is still being built, have we done everything right this past year? No. Are we a perfect organisation? No. The important thing is however, we can shape Left Unity, it is up to us what kind of party we are involved in.

Once the dust of the election settles there are definitely things that need to be looked at and improved, we need to look at how the party operates, how we communicate with one another, how we formulate policy and ultimately how we improve on the foundations and principles we were founded on.

The party system of old is dead, it doesn’t belong in the 21st century, it isn’t suited to the internet age, and we need to be looking at how the internal workings of Left Unity can be upgraded and incorporated so that every single member has the maximum amount of power.

The constitution was a start but that was it, a start, it wasn’t the end it was the beginning. We are not doing this in a vacuum, we can build on what has come before, we can look to how Syriza and how Podemos operate. I however don’t want to build a party like Podemos or like Syriza, I want to build a party like Left Unity, one that we can call our own.

So how do we do this? Left Unity needs to adopt direct democracy internally in the realms of decision making, I’ve already wrote a small piece on how we can improve conferences which will have a knock on effect. We need to be as open as we possibly can about as much as we can, we have nothing to hide and nothing to fear.

We really need to rip up the rule book of organisation, and try out radical new ways out engaging members, supporters and non-members alike. In the meantime however and of a matter of urgency we need to improve communication, when there is a lack of communication, people who make allegations have free reign on opinion, and in the age of the internet that means they can influence others, as information spreads so quickly now.

Members area of the websites needs to be improved to accommodate more information, as well as a way for members to interact with one another, at the moment the main area of communication across the whole of Left Unity nationally is an unofficial Facebook group, which had to get shut down once already, it is ridiculous.

Left Unity needs to step up to the plate and embrace the internet, just running with the website idea each member could have their own profile, there can be some form of internal message board where we can communicate with one another, there can be an official statement one for Left Unity to keep everyone up to date with what is going on, with disputes, problems, etc.

Mass Skype meetings? Email? Forums? Apps? Polls? There is literally an untold amount of ways we can communicate with one another and keep each other informed, there is no excuse in this day and age – we are not living in the dark ages.

The very structure of how Left Unity operates could easily fall into the trap of alienation of its core supporter by making them feel powerless and disengaged with the whole creative and informative process. Branches have a lot of power, but they are not being supported enough. How many effective and operational branches do we have? What steps are we taking to improve upon these?

The majority of the problems I alluded to earlier were directly caused because a lack of communication, so lets go back to the constitution and see how we can be more transparent, lets go back to the spirit of 45 and lets see what we can do to improve the party we founded, and that we are building here. The future is ours, we only need to grab it!

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All power to the regions!

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The Left Unity project is as ambitious as they come, a work in progress that will never be completed as long as there are those willing to fight for a new kind of politics. Our party is attempting to do away with the outdated and the archaic defunct structures of the past, structures which ultimately have existed to keep power in the hands of a few while at the same time robbing it from the many. In this past year we have come along way, we have had many ups and downs but the relentless assault on the people continues, regardless of what we do and in that vein we shall continue marching on! We can only operate on trial and error, if we wait for the perfect party or the perfect structure or the perfect time, then we will be waiting in vain.

Our greatest strength are the people, it is how we organise on the ground which is key to our success, and this is why it is my belief we should be doing everything possible to empower our existing organisation and expanding our structures to accommodate a bottom up power model. These things do exist in some capacity, but as with all things they can always be improved, as we are attempting to create an atmosphere where a social movement can spring up much in the vein of Greece and Spain we should be doing everything possible to achieve this. Within the article I will discuss how we can empower regions and branches so that we are more accountability and doing politics in a less hierarchical and thus in a more open way.

Here are a list of suggestions

  • One principal speaker per region (elected by that region)
  • Region specific policy making
  • policies which are detrimental to a region or branch can be adapted or in some cases removed from that specific region/branch (regional veto)
  • Disputes handled at regional level, appeal handled at national
  • Regional NC reps being from throughout the region (no branch concentration of power)
  • Remove all form of delegate based conferences and meetings
  • Conference and regional votes should follow direct democracy with region and nation (end to the tyranny of the attendee, party-wide referendums)
  • Branches have further autonomy enshrined in the constitution

Some of these things are a lot easier to implement than others, and arguably some exist in theory or on paper, but have yet to be implemented. It is my belief that Left Unity national should exist as a mediator, facilitator and promoter for regional and branch development, as we work at building a network which forms our national identity. If we are to have any hope of creating a mass movement, it is imperative it comes from below, the top down approach has failed many a time, and it is my concern we are in danger of sliding back into the traditional methods of organisation which have a proven record of failure. Our main aim should be giving the tools to party members and the public to shape our party as they see fit.

We need to bolster and improve regional powers so that there is more accountability, more variety and ultimately more power in the hands of members. We want an environment which promotes participation and interest through having an atmosphere where people, their actions and their beliefs actually matter, where they have an impact. These things have been lacking from mainstream politics and unless we start looking at ways to engage, people will switch off with us too. Hence region specific policy making, regional principal speakers, regional veto and regional disputes as all these measures can act as the fertilizer for a more robust political party and in turn movement. We are trying to reshape society, we cannot do that if we cannot reshape ourselves.

Regional NC Representation at present can be concentrated into one branch, regional reps should be representative of the region and not only a single or a select few branches. This ensures regular communication and co-operation between regional areas but it protects against a single branch representing a region in an unaccountable fashion. We have a pretty autonomous branch structure as it stands, the worrying part however is a lack of branch rights included in the constitution. Just what, how and when can our branch act, what rights do we have in case of disputes? I think how we have it at the moment in terms of branch autonomy is pretty good, but we need to be enshrining it in the constitution and working out how we can ensure branch autonomy is here to stay, how national can support it and where we can improve it.

Delegate conferences are a thing of the past, we should be looking at how Podemos conducted their conference and seek to emulate that. This means internet participation and utilizing all forms of technology available to us, but more than that it means an end to the tyranny of the attendee – why should the pressure be on members to get themselves to this place or that when voting can be done online? We need to be as accessible and as open as possible, this means accommodating people and their busy stress filled lives. Fact is if you’re a single mother living in York it is going to be very difficult for you to attend something taking place in London. All members votes are equal, that single mothers vote is worth just as much as someone who lives there and can attend easily. Our party does not represent its members views if the majority of them cannot vote on our policies.

To conclude the kind of party we should be building is one that is adaptable, varied, representative, accountable to the lowest level and one that empowers all its members. In my opinion the best way to achieve that is to empower structures like the regional assembles and branches so that we can improve the bottom-up model we are trying to build. This should not end there and should include conferences, members from all over the country should be included and we should be looking at ways to be as inclusive as we possibly can. The debate on what kind of party we are building should never end, we should never stop looking at how we can improve what we have and how we can empower people, because our party like the universe is always in motion. When we have groups like Podemos, Occupy and Anon who have radically different approaches for our inspiration, there is just no excuse.

Members over Money

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A new kind of politics and doing politics differently, two slogans we have been using within Left Unity, but as the saying goes: actions speak louder than words. In Left Unity Northampton we put a motion to the NC for allowing free membership to young people and homeless people, this is only just the beginning as we believe we need to radically change how we interact with the wider public. We are attempting to build a party that is for the downtrodden, that is run by the oppressed and we are trying to do that during hard economic times, where the people are suffering untold amounts. Ultimately If your benefit gets sanctioned, do you want the added stress of party contributions? Within this article I am going to explain why the kind of party we need has to change how members contribute if we are going to have long lasting success. The benefits of having a more inclusive membership process is self evident, more people will be open to committing time and energy to the party if they do not have to submit to a monetary commitment right off the bat, people who are weary of politics will be able to dip their toe in the water and membership will inevitable rise.

Austerity Britain, a slogan we hear on a daily basis, while we recognise that there is money available because the rich continue to grow their wealth off the hardships of the poor, the suffering of the people is something however which is very real. Money is tight for us all and as a party we should not be adding to the financial burdens of our members, we should not be putting pressure or in some cases shame on them in the form of monetary obligations. Members are not cash cows to be milked for the expenses of the party, this way of thinking belongs in the 20th century, it is not a new kind of politics. Ultimately the party we want to build will be choc-a-block full of the oppressed masses, why should they give up the limited amount of money they have in order to pay fees for an organisation where they get nothing in return. Do we feed or cloth our members, do we provide them with shelter, electricity, gas? All these things are far more important to someone struggling to get by than paying a membership fee, however these people unable to financially commit still deserve a political voice.

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” is a saying that needs no introduction to the majority of the left, well how about we have: “from each according to his circumstance, to each according to his contribution.” Take Podemos for example, a party which in a short space of time has reached out to hundreds of thousands of people. Podemos has no membership fees at all, it crowdfunds for the money it needs and all receipts are made public. While I am not suggesting this is why they have grew so fast and so quickly, I believe it is however a factor. We are asking people to give us something for nothing, this is in a climate where people don’t have a lot to give, but even worse than that, it is in a climate where politics is a dirty word. We need to break out of this two dimensional way of thinking, where money Is more important than peoples time, dedication and commitment. If we want a party which is inclusive and accessible to the largest amount of people in the country, then we need to value and welcome them with open arms and say your contribution matters much more than the change in your back pocket.

A party however much like an army, marches on its stomach. We need money if we are to have shiny meeting areas, challenge elections and fight it out with the big boys, but money isn’t our only resource and arguably not even our most important, that would be people. Membership fees are not the only way to raise funds, there are an untold amount of ways to raise money and the only limit to how we get revenue is our imagination. We could crowdfund like Podemos, which seems to be working fine for them. We could say to members they can contribute whatever they can in a more voluntary system, or operate off of donations alone, paying as and when able. Branches could be charged an operating fee, instead of the contribution falling on individuals. We could also operate using traditional fundraising methods. Each one of these has pros and cons, and the suggestions are by no means extensive, we could even just tweak our current membership rules to exempt certain groups of people. The more inventive the way we can be inclusive and still operate effectively, the better and the only thing stopping us is the limit of the debate we have.

Left Unity: Moving Forward

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This article is a follow up article to a piece wrote at the beginning of the year entitled: “Left Unity, a new party, a new politics.” It is suggested you read that before reading this one as the two compliment one another, the article delved into how Left Unity should be operating and what it should be doing for our new kind of politics. This article shall delve deeper into that topic reflecting on what still needs to be done, and what strategy we should be adopting to grow the party, and continue to fight for the oppressed. The task ahead for Left Unity as a whole and for individual members is a monumental one, building a party from the ground up, it cannot be rushed, we cannot cut corners, for if we drop the baton now, everything is for naught.

Our year anniversary is fast approaching and we have come quite a way since we started out, so I guess a congratulations and a well done are in order for all the hard working members, officers, and branches up and down the country, who are working tirelessly in service of their communities and towards the success of Left Unity. Our work however is far from over, as founding and early members of the party our job is one of the most important tasks, we need to be laying the foundations of the party, our foundation within communities and our foundations in the hearts and minds of the people. If we fail at this task, the party is finished, it is our duty to prove to the people that we are not more of the same, that we are well and truly on their side in the struggle, and that they can trust us. It with this in mind that the formative years of the party will shape how we are perceived by the public, and will set the tone of the party for years to come.

Our first task in ensuring we can deliver on the five strategical aims I laid out in my previous article is organisation, we need to ensure our internal structures and organisation are complete and operating as intended. If we cannot get this right, we stand no chance of working efficiently or growing as a party, for we will forever be marred in internal distractions. This means ensuring:

  • Regional councils are fully functioning

  • Standing orders finalised for branches, committees, sub-groups, etc

  • Branches are fully supported and operational

  • All posts are filled

  • Committees are fully operational

  • Refined policies

In fact, everything in regards to the internal structure and organisation could be added to the list, so it is by no means an extensive one, but you get the picture. This is what I am getting a little concerned about, if Left Unity was an army, half of our troops have had no training, the other half haven’t been given any weapons, and we are going to be sending them out to war?

Which leads me to my next point, elections are coming up and the debate was had at Left Unity Northampton on how we were planning to proceed, we unanimously agreed that standing in the General Election would be a waste of time, money and resources and we have put a motion in to the NC towards that end. Left Unity is not even a year old, we haven’t got our organisation fully operational, and with less than a year to go, we have no strategy for fighting the election, even if we win a seat, the party is not prepared or ready to have an MP. We need only look at other parties to see how long it has took them to mount credible challenges, and what strategy they adopted to achieve that end. Money that we are going to be throwing away in fighting a general election could be spent on positive things which help us lay the foundations for 2020, where we can fight a good campaign. If Left Unity was a product, we haven’t finished making it yet, nor have we finished producing it, but we are already trying to sell it and that kind of opportunistic token electioneering will damage our long term success.

So what should we be doing in the coming year, what strategy should we adopt if jumping on the general election bandwagon is a waste of time? I touched on the five points in my previous article, but we need to be doing more than just that. We need to be working at building local foundations, local fortresses, Left Unity bases up and down the country, and more importantly we need to be getting Left Unity out there into mainstream culture. To achieve this, we should be standing in local elections, while continuing to build relationships with communities through the five points. Once these lines of communication are fully laid, the trenches have been dug, then we will be prepared for battle, as the saying goes, fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Therefore the time spent on elections could be spent helping communities in their struggles, doing the important ground work for the success of the party in its battle against capitalism.

On top of this, the money we are going to be wasting on a general election could be put towards real good use in growing the party, we could hold a Left Unity political road show traveling up and down the country, with national officers and members going to each and every branch to boost that branches recognition and get the Left Unity message out there. We can put that money where it is needed, helping the oppressed and downtrodden, getting right into the hearts of communities and building Left Unity from the bottom up. Instead of rushing around placing general election candidates for the sake of it, when we are relatively unknown, we should be carrying out positive actions within communities which will attribute to the long term success of the party, not detract from it. If we do this step perfectly, when 2020 comes around we will be in perfect position to mount a general election campaign, as we would have had six years to plan for it, instead of half a year.

In Northampton Left Unity we have been working at building a strong base, a powerful foundation with which to challenge in 2020. We have built relationships with local groups, carried out our own protests and actions, got involved in local campaigns, helped in communities and set up our own society within the university. We are working tirelessly to build links within the community and create a bond of trust which will empower the group and the people. We will be standing a few candidates in the local election to get LU on a ballot paper, and make a headway into local government, because we feel that is the most effective use of our time. Each month we are gaining one or two new members, and these members are usually people that have never engaged in politics before. We plan on leading by example, and whatever strategy Left Unity adopts, we hope in a few years time we can show you a successful branch. We have done this without any real tangible support in terms of funds and resources from LU Central, if we got given a couple of grand with which to build the branch, we would be twice the size we are now, and this is where the resources should be going.

To wrap this up, Left Unity is a long term project, and we need to be thinking in the long term, we are the builders of Left Unity’s future and if we build those foundations on sand, then we are destroying that future. We have two thousand members and need to be pushing to get that membership up to ten thousand, we need to be working at getting branches fully embedded into their communities struggles, we need to be supporting one another so that the party is operational, so that when we do go to war, we are fully prepared for the fight, instead of throwing ourselves to the lions. There is important work that needs to take place in the formative years of the party, that we cannot afford the distraction of chasing general elections, when we will not get our deposits back, not mount a credible challenge, and waste a huge chunk of the year and time, for little or no gain. Now more than ever we need to be placing ourselves well and truly on the side of the people, so that come 2020, we mean business. Instead of running the Fawlty Towers of election campaigns, the party will be fully operational, our policies will be refined, our strategy well thought out, our product will be finished and it will be rolling off the assembly line. We should not be trying to sell Left Unity and carrying out business like the other parties, they are more prepared, better funded and resourced than us, we cannot beat them fighting a conventional war, we will not beat them at their own game, we have to resort to guerrilla tactics if we are too be successful in the long term, so lets not sell out our long term success for short term dreams.