A dossier I compiled - and not anonymously
I have been moved to write this by the bonkers sectarianism of Michael Meacher's New Statesman article (http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2012/03/labour-party-within-progress) calling for an NEC investigation into Progress.
There is a red line between criticising groups you disagree with and trying to threaten them existentially.
Michael has crossed it.
Progress has been on the receiving end of a lot of negative campaigning in the last few weeks, from an anonymous dossier mailed to CLPs, to negative blog posts on the www.leftfutures.org website and tweets from Jon Lansman, Michael Meacher, CLPD and Leftfutures (all twitter accounts administered by the same person?), which have also attacked the other organisation for Labour moderates, Labour First.
This is not unconnected to the current NEC elections. Under pressure because moderates are performing well at the nomination stage, the Hard Left has attacked moderate organisations to try to de-legitimise them and smear moderate candidates by association.
I thought in the interests of balance I would devote this post to setting out the facts about the groups which make up the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance (GRA), the coalition which promotes a leftwing slate of candidates in internal Labour elections.
I leave it up to the reader to decide if they are more legitimate organisations to play a role in Labour’s deliberations than Progress or Labour First.
To quote one leftwing blog “the means by which the [GRA] slate is formulated is somewhat of a mystery, largely decided by negotiators representing the various groups that make up the Alliance.”
The Alliance was founded in 1996 by Labour Reform and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD). Subsequently other organisations joined including the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), Labour Left Briefing and the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs.
The most centrist of these organisations on the Labour spectrum, indeed the small figleaf that enabled the GRA to describe itself as “Centre-Left” was Labour Reform. This organisation was primarily focused on matters of internal party democracy, process not policy. It no longer exists and its successor organisation from 2003 was Save the Labour Party. This has now been replaced by the Labour Democratic Network – LDN (http://www.labourdemocraticnetwork.org/) which seems somewhat moribund as it last posted on its blog in November. It is not clear if LDN is involved in this year’s GRA slate.
Also involved in the last NEC elections in 2010 was the well-funded and high-profile soft-left group Compass. However, Compass’ decisions to allow Greens, Lib Dems and other non-Labour members to join it has re-orientated it away from work on the Labour left.
The apparent lack of active involvement in the GRA slate this year from these less leftwing organisations seriously undermines its claim to represent the “centre left”.
This leaves two major rump components: CLPD and LRC. They are both from the Hard Left tradition in the Party (a phrase used repeatedly by leftwing writers about themselves so not intended to be pejorative) and have an overlapping membership, but do not get on, as is evidenced by the failure to agree a common six names for the GRA slate at this stage. CLPD and LRC are running different line-ups at nomination stage but the bottom ranked of the total of 7 candidates will drop out before the OMOV ballot.
CLPD (http://home.freeuk.net/clpd/index.htm) is the older organisation, founded in 1973. Its own website says “The main motivation for the Campaign was the record of the Labour governments in the sixties and the way that Annual Conference decisions were continually ignored on key domestic and international issues. The
immediate cause was Harold Wilson's outright rejection in 1973 of the proposal to take into public ownership some 25 of the largest manufacturing companies, covering the major sectors of the economy.”
CLPD went on to be the extremely effective organising hub for the Bennite insurgency of the 1970s and early 1980s, promoting Benn’s candidature for Deputy Leader against Healey, and pushing mandatory
reselection of MPs and the Electoral College for leadership elections. As its fortunes waned it opposed the introduction of One Member One Vote by John Smith and of the New Clause IV by Blair. It website says
“In addition CLPD also promotes non-democracy issues, such as the significant extension of public ownership.”
CLPD’s position could basically be summarised as “the Bennites were correct in the early ‘80s, please give us a second chance at pursuing the same strategy”.
The LRC (http://www.l-r-c.org.uk/) is a newer organisation, founded in 2004. It is Chaired by John McDonnell MP who led the (even more) leftwing opposition to Ken Livingstone in the GLC Labour Group in the ‘80s.
As well as having appropriated the Labour Party’s pre-1906 name (which is as though I was to set up a moderate faction in Unite and call it “AEEU" or "TGWU”), it has all the characteristics of a party within a party. It holds delegate based conferences. It has its own elected NEC (http://www.l-r-c.org.uk/about/nationalcommittee ). It has its own affiliates, many of which are not eligible for affiliation to Labour (http://www.l-r-c.org.uk/about/affiliates ). It has its own disciplinary processes, set out in clause 9 of its constitution (http://www.l-r-c.org.uk/files/constitution_0809.pdf ). Presumably its primary source of funding is affiliation fees, money which could
otherwise be donated to Labour, if from Labour affiliates, or a backdoor route into trying to influence Labour by bodies not eligible for affiliation to us. It has its own policy platform voted on at its conference: http://www.l-r-c.org.uk/policy/
The full list of affiliates is great reading as a kind of A-Z of the ultra left (with similarities to a certain Python sketch about Judea) but suggests the LRC has a generous interpretation of the word "Labour" as it includes organisations actively hostile to the Labour Party:
FBU - chose to disaffiliate from the Labour Party
RMT - disaffiliated from Labour for allowing branches to affiliate to the Scottish Socialist Party
A World to Win -an organisation whose manifesto (http://www.aworldtowin.net/Manifesto/International.html) states that "Revolutionary political organisations of a new type should be built internationally", "Now that the credit-induced boom has ended, the epoch will once again reveal itself as one of wars and revolutions.
Conditions for revolutionary change are increasingly favourable." It advocates a "revolutionary government in Britain" and talks about replacing liberal democracy with "national, regional and local People’s Assemblies" (AKA soviets...)
Alliance for Workers Liberty - a self-avowed Trotskyist grouping formerly known as Socialist Organiser, which was proscribed by the Labour Party in the late 1980s and is now a registered political party.
Communist Students – the student wing of the Leninist CPGB.
Morning Star Readers' Groups - readers of a newspaper previously the organ of the official Communist Party of GB and now describing itself as "close to the Communist Party of Britain" (i.e. close to a hardline Stalinist Party)
Group of International Communists - this lot say "Communist revolutions cannot succeed without mass self-organisations of workers, and the leadership of organisations of revolutionary workers and the oppressed. We are a network whose aim is to contribute to the development of such a movement in this country and internationally."
Hands Off Venezuela - supporters of the authoritarian Chavez regime and its Bolivarian revolution.
Labour Party Marxists – this group seem to be connected to (an entryist effort by?) the CPGB
New Communist Party - a Stalinist party (see this tribute to Uncle Joe: http://www.newworker.org/ncpcentral/JVS.html) that split from the CPGB because it (NCP) supported the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
Newrad Communist Collective - " group of communists who share a common view of the world and a common history forged in the struggle against revisionism"
Socialist Appeal - the Trotskyist organisation founded by former Militant leader Ted Grant after Militant expelled him for continuing to advocate entryism into the Labour Party
TGWU Broad Left - includes activists from the Labour left in Unite but also from the Stalinist CPB, Leninist SWP and Trotskyist SP.
Workers Power – a Trotskyist party that split from the SWP.
The LRC doesn't seem to have an adequate, indeed any, definition of the left boundary of what it means to be a democratic socialist or social democrat. By definition, self-professed revolutionaries, Trots, Stalinists, Leninists and Communists are not democratic socialists and I would be interested to know why the Labour activists in the LRC are open to their participation. By extension the entire GRA, as it allows the LRC to be a major component, is open to such forces.
A further participant in the GRA is or has been the magazine Labour Briefing (http://www.labourbriefing.org.uk/). One of its editorial board members described it to me as a “non-Trotskyist group with Trotskyists in it”. Its editorial board is listed here:
It has usually promoted a position to the left of other hard left groups such as CLPD, making it a grouping/journal that even Clare Short was moved to denounce at Labour Party Conference for its sectarianism and personalised attacks on any one to the right of it, most famously its "Class Traitor of the Month" column (which unfortunately was discontinued before I could acquire the honour of featuring in it).
Another GRA component is the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs. I can’t find out if it still exists. If it doesn’t its obituary is here http://www.leftfutures.org/2010/05/the-campaign-group-time-to-move-on/ where former MP Bob Clay says “it gives me no pleasure to suggest now that the group has lost any purpose in its continued existence and ought to be wound up in order to make way for a less sectarian and more effective body.”
The final grouping on the left is Socialist Action (http://www.socialistaction.net/) a small and secretive but hyper-active Trotskyist group. This was once part of Tariq Ali’s International Marxist Group until voting in 1982 to dissolve itself and enter into the Labour Party to try to take it over. Its members are heavily involved in CND, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Student Broad Left, presumably seeing these single issue campaigns as vehicles for recruiting new revolutionary cadres. In a bizarre two-track strategy it has also tried to enter into and take over Respect since that party split in 2007. Its involvement in the GRA seems to be through other groups rather than in its own name.
So there we have it. A “Grassroots Alliance” that consists largely of groups which either are Leninist revolutionaries, are extremely tolerant of them and work with them, or best case are nostalgic for the period when Tony Benn was busy destroying Labour.