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.

State of the enslaved

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We look to states steeped in sacrifice
built with the blood of countless millions
we look to them for our security
if you ask me that is utter lunacy

All that they protect is our suffering
while enforcing our inequality
all that they protect is their own interests
remember kids they know best

If I’m free why am i bound in servitude
enslaved to the kings of cash
If I’m free why am i locked in routine
our future is foreseen

Our shouts are seen in the silence
We doth protest too much!
Our shouts are met with violence
In this land of surveillance

Left Unity: In Principle & In Practice

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Left Unity was and still is a very ambitious initiative which sought to not only unite various strands of the left but to spread the left message to the massive chunk of people not engaging with the left, or politics in general. We have had some degree of success in this regard, bringing in members from ex-Labour, the far left, and general activists. What do we do now to move the project of Left Unity forward, where do we go from here?

As it stands presently Left Unity has members who are involved in other political projects and other political organisations, these people have put their toe into the water but have yet to take the plunge. We should be looking at why, and how we can assimilate not only them, but their organisations within our ranks. This is imperative not only for the success of Left Unity but for the success of the left in general.

The system we have in place now was fine prior to our becoming a party and standing in elections, but the organisation has moved forward, we cannot have such an overlap between groups, not only is it confusing but it leaves Left Unity open to infiltration and a situation could arise where we are left with mud on our face, we can be brought into disrepute. At the moment groups can freely take part in Left Unity, with all the benefits going to their organisation but what do we get in return? Absolutely nothing.

There are various ways how we can remedy this situation, I will list them here before going into more detail, these are:

  • LU can open up talks with organisations and groups to discuss what we can get out of allowing their members to organise within our ranks.
  • We can expand on our internal structure to allow these groups to come within the Left Unity structure and operate officially as extensions of Left Unity, in a similar fashion to tendencies.
  • These groups can become amalgamated into Left Unity ceasing to exist.
  • Becoming a member of Left Unity means members have to renounce membership to previous groups/organisations

As a member of Left Unity and only Left Unity, I feel like our internal democracy can be subverted by outside organisations who can all lump together to impose their organisations will on our organisation. As a member of Left Unity, I have no say, or knowledge of what their organisation gets up to, yet they know everything about us. Even worse than this, as a member I have no say over what organisations can do this, there is no policy in place to ensure this process is two way. At the moment we are giving everything, and getting nothing in return, that is why we could open up talks with the groups involved with Left Unity and work at how they can organise within our party, and how the membership can hold these organisations and their representatives within Left Unity to account. This could range from something as simple as a democratically agreed list of “affiliate organisations” to something much more in depth.

As it stands we have a very rudimentary way to allow groups to form within the party in the form of tendencies, we could expand on this structure so that pre-existing groups can become part of Left Unity, retaining most of their individual identity. This can improve our internal democracy, it means that members of various organisations can be held accountable to the membership of Left Unity, it ensures that we cannot be put into disrepute by groups of people who are part of this group and that organisation. It will also promote lively debate within Left Unity, as various tendencies operate officially within our structure to promote their views, instead of doing this from the outside and from within. We could accommodate them expanding what rights tendencies have, fleshing out how they operate within the party while promoting healthy democratic debate.

Amalgamating the various organisations of those involved would be something similar to what historically happened to the Labour party, and would definitely make the left a lot stronger than it is. At the moment we are like a hundred people all pulling in different directions, if we united under one organisation, we would be one hundred people pulling in the same direction. However Left Unity are still the new kids on the block and how successful we are going to be is still being decided by the jury, one thing is for certain we will be as successful as those committed to Left Unity make us. There is that age old workers maxim, unity is strength and this holds as true today as it did one hundred years ago, the left is in a mess because of its disunity, Left Unity exists to remedy that. Everyone involved must want some form of left unity, or at least recognise the need for it.

Making members renounce political affiliation to other organisations, would cause a lot of work for Left Unity. First and foremost our membership would drop slightly, secondly we would come under attack by these organisations. All of which will distract us from our real concerns, fighting capitalism and helping those feel its effects. However it isn’t all negative, it would ensure that the people left are committed to Left Unity and Left Unity alone, we would be free from internal distractions brought about through various outside influences, and we would all be working towards the improvement and betterment of Left Unity. This would therefore empower the membership who are left to have full control over the organisation, the only problem would be just how many activists we lose and the danger of LU falling into the trap of sectarianism.

What path Left Unity should take, I am not one hundred percent sure, one thing is for certain though this debate needs to be had, and it needs to be resolved sooner rather than later. We are leaving ourselves open to attack from within and while this may not be a massive problem at the moment, as we grow it will become a much bigger possibility. We need people who are taking Left Unity seriously, and are committed to the project wholeheartedly, we need to work at improving our grassroots structure and our democracy, empowering the membership to take Left Unity on the journey they want it to. It is very bizarre that we can have people not involved with Left Unity at all, in a completely separate organisation influencing our policy through having their members in this position, or voting on that motion. In the long run this leaves us as members completely powerless over our own destinies. The first step in finding a resolution to this, is Left Unity having this debate and discussing what kind of party we truly want this to be. We can hold a meeting with all these organisations, get their input, get your input as a member, this is our party, lets ensure it succeeds.

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.

Labour: The New Party of the Right

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Can we stop pretending that Labour is a centre left party now? It seems with each passing week another right wing policy comes spewing forth from the Labour party machine, or even more farcically a selection of MPs falling over themselves to appear more right wing on the key debates of the day. How long are we going to be in self denial on what the Labour party has transformed into? How long can we buy into a false belief that they are anything but on a clear course of centre right politics? If Labour taking up the rally cry of “one nation” politics didn’t send the alarm bells ringing, what will? Like the Titanic hurtling towards an ice berg, Labour are hurtling full speed ahead into the right of British politics. Ed Miliband is just the newest figure in Labours slow march to the right as it abandons its supporters. Labours continual commitment to move further right should go down in history as one of the biggest betrayals of British politics, how insane that a political party can be so divorced from its key voters and supporters that it is doing everything in its power to leave them behind. It is a damning state of affairs for British politics when come the election people will vote Labour only because they won’t hit us as hard as the Tories, or if they do, they will look apologetic and sorry about it afterwards.

The Labour party was founded out of the Trade Union movement, it was founded to ensure this movement had representation in parliament, who would of thought that when they are afraid to say they support striking workers? Or fall over themselves in trying to distance their relationship to the unions. I am going to say this loud and clear, being a trade unionist is not a crime, it is not a sin, trade union is not a dirty word to be shied away from, it is something to be proud of, and Labour are not proud of this history, and they are not proud of that legacy. Their betrayal of their founding principals continues however, Nye Bevin founded the NHS, a health system which is the marvel of the world, yet it was a Labour party some sixty (give or take) years later which begun selling off this wonderful health system to private companies, so they may profit off our sickness, now that is a big fuck you to Bevan and the proud achievements of a Labour party fighting for the people. The NHS came about to ensure that we were all given good healthcare regardless of wealth, yet now they begun the process to have a health system run on profit and based on wealth? “It will last as long as there a folk left to fight for it” Bevan once said, he would be turning in his grave if he knew his party were the ones that begun the process of dismantling it. I could go on and on, but there is a rather simple test which can prove this abandonment of socialism, look through a Labour manifesto, look for the word socialism, now look through their last five manifestos, see if you can find it, you won’t, just like they are afraid of their trade unionist past, they have abandoned their socialist principals. They even took up the rally cry of imperialism with the invasion of Iraq, they picked up the sword of imperialism and plunged it into the back of their international socialist supporters!

One Nation Conservatism championed by Benjamin Desrali is the new theme for the Labour party, and it was such an important part of Conservatism that it was only in the 1970s that its influence diminished within the Tory party, New Labour has now become One Nation Labour. Ed Miliband while citing Desrali as a key influence, also claims it is inspired by Prime Minister Attlee, the same Prime Minister that brought in a swathe of welfare reforms, chief among them the NHS, a champion of the welfare state. This being the case, how can this One Nation Labour even begin to match up to the champions that brought in the welfare state in one of the most difficult periods economically and socially this country has ever witnessed? Far from having a banker created deficit to deal with, Attlee had a myriad of problems and far from shrinking from the responsibility the Labour party had to the people of the country, he brought in reforms to help them and the welfare state he laid the foundations for and built up is being dismantled by the ConDems, and is going to continue to be attacked by Labour, at the very least if he wants to lay claim to Attlee’s legacy he could at least mount a robust defense of the welfare state instead of helping hammer in the nails of the welfare coffin.

To lay the blame solely at Ed Miliband’s feet would do him a disservice, he is very much a fruit of a Labour tree that has hacked away at its roots and one that marches relentlessly to the right, the Labour’s mass consensus and acceptance of Thatcherism. We had thirteen years of Labour government, thirteen years of chances, thirteen years for the Labour party to empower the unions, thirteen years to undo the heartless and callous actions of she who may not be named, thirteen years to regulate business interest, thirteen years to nationalise key industry, thirteen years! THIRTEEN YEARS!!! Far from being remembered as an administration that championed the interest of the working class, that reigned in big business, that gave power to the trade unions, it is remembered most of all for an imperialist war, for giving power to the banks, for creating the big brother state. The whole New Labour project was a betrayal of old Labour, a betrayal of true Labour – it should be remembered as the final nail in the coffin, and Blair the man who sold those principals down the river. To still peddle this poor excuse for a party which is anything but socialist, as a viable workers alternative is not only an insult to everyone who is a socialist, but it is in an insult to those who built up the party, an insult to all who see themselves on the side of good, on the side of equality and the side of justice! Much like Oscar Wilde wrote “the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it,” these people are perverting the socialist message and prolonging our suffering under this system. The sooner we stop letting Labour beat us up and fight back, the sooner we can be living in a just and fair society!

If we examine some Labour of past and present, we can see this growing right wing tendency consuming the soul of the party. The most iconic of these in recent memory being the abandonment of clause 4 which read: “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.” This arguably ensured that the constitution and the party were firmly rooted in the workers struggle, and on the side of the people against the vampiric nature of big business. Removing this from the constitution was either a retreat from the principals which made the party great, or a capitulation to Thatcherism and right wing ideological thought, but one thing it certainly wasn’t, was left wing. Now fast forward twenty years and we have a Labour party that wants to be “tough” (right wing rhetoric for harsh and unfair) on immigration and benefits, with a Labour government we will not be able to have benefits until we are 21. It goes deeper than this still Rachel Reeves has rather proudly declared “It is not an either/or question. We would be tougher [than the Conservatives],” in what kind of parallel universe do we have to reside in, when a socialist or left wing party is declaring it will be more right wing than the Tories? While Ed Balls is declaring they will go into the next general election being “tougher on immigration,” this in the wake of the UKIP scare, where we witnessed a swathe of Labour politicians falling over themselves to appear more right wing than UKIP. The party has betrayed its principals, betrayed its supporters and betrayed us all!

Finally, and this is by no means the sum of all the charges laid at the feet of a disconnected Labour party, the cuts which have hit the poorest and most vulnerable in the wake of the bankers and capitalism crisis are being forced to pay, we are being forced to see the many victories won by brave souls, brave trade unions and a brave Labour party, get ripped away before our very eyes. You would expect then a left wing Labour party to be on the offensive, racing ahead in the polls with a swathe of policies and rhetoric to reflect the dire situation we all find ourselves in, but alas this is not the case. We are met with Ed Balls “We will be cutting departmental spending in 2015-16 and not raising it, with no more borrowing to cover day-to-day spending.” Not only has the right wing Labour party followed the immigrant scapegoating lined laid down by the likes of UKIP, it has accepted the neo-liberal right wing capitalist myth, forcing every normal person to shoulder the burden of a crisis it did not create. Outside of the cost of living crisis rhetoric, which is very true, there is no real substance to it, it is just hot air, a sacrifice to appease the Labour faithful, a bone thrown for them to chew on, well lap it up, because it isn’t going to get any better. A left wing Labour party would be reversing these cuts, it would be creating equality, fairness, a system that works not for a few elites at the top, but for the majority of us.

To reflect on Labours slow zombie like shuffle to the right you can trace this slow right bound drudge with the removal of clause 4, you could argue it begun even further back as some have, but when it begun really doesn’t matter to the present situation and that is, we now have a Labour party which no longer represents the majority of workers, a Labour party which has betrayed or ignored the trade unions, a Labour party that has abandoned the principles it was founded upon, a Labour party which no longer seems to care for its roots. The reclaim Labour strategy has been argued for, for fourty odd years and within that time we have witnessed a complete betrayal by the Labour party to the people. We can mourn the Labour party, we can waste our time within the Labour party machine, fighting helpless against the ever growing tide towards the right wing, or we can work at building a new party that represents the people, this is why a new party of the left had to come into existence. After all that Labour have done to us throughout the decades people still turn out because “they’re better than the Tories” but how long is that excuse going to last? How much betrayal can we take? On the continent we have seen relatively young parties spring up and have some measure of success, this is why we need to throw off the pessimism of a new party, Labour started somewhere a century ago, and we have to start again for the workers torch is being extinguished over Westminster. We cannot continue to support a party which does not support us, it is as simple as that, so please throw off the Labour shackles, the Labour party of old is dead, the new beast is not one we want to ride.

I’m an Anarchist and I’m in Left Unity, there I said it!

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I am involved with Left Unity because it is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity. The left as a force within this country is spent, it is on its knees and the only way it stands a fighting chance against the onslaught of capitalism is if we work together. Thus I became part of the Left Unity project, sceptical of what it really was, and afraid it was more of the same but lucky enough for me, it did not turn out to be any of the things I expected! There is no one ideology of Left Unity, you can be a Leninist, Marxist, Maoist, Makhovist and everything in between, I am not being told I have to kneel down and pray to Karl Marx five times a day, I can have an opinion.

Our local branch is pretty free to do as it pleases which is a massive plus, there is not some central top down leadership attempting to control my every action and thought, I feel like I am free to express myself and that I have a voice. Right from the get go the party has been an inclusive place for all those along the left, a place where we can come together to fight our common enemy and work for the common good. It also seeks to be more than just a political party, it seeks to be a social movement and if the left can’t pull its act together, what then? For me to not just pay lip service to the term Left Unity, I had no choice but to get involved.

Before the founding conference and beyond members within Left Unity hold the power, we created the constitution, we can submits motions and far from Left Unity pretending to have all the answers, it asked all the right questions. There seems to be a real commitment within Left Unity for members to have wildly different views and be allowed to express them as they wish. Not only that but we have some really interesting policies which are their to either curb someone attaining to much power or to keep them in check in case they do, e.g Only being allowed to hold a position for three years and yearly elections both of which are massively important in holding the leadership to account and providing power to the grass roots.

Left Unity has that commitment to grass roots, bottom up leadership which to me makes it an ok place to work. I do not want to be part of an organisation where everyone thinks and acts the same, because that is not healthy and the fact Left Unity has a massive local agenda, I feel it does not jeopardise my anarchist views. We all want to see the end of capitalism, and there is no point in arguing about what comes next until the end of capitalism is a possibility, we have a long way to fight and it makes no sense being spread out and divided, unity is our strength.

I hope I’m not the only Anarchist within Left Unity, and if there is enough of us we should get a tendency together.