A letter to Labour Transformed

Submitted by AWL on 8 January, 2020 - 10:06 Author: Martin Thomas
Labour Transformed

Dear Labour Transformed:

Your mailing on 21 December, after your first gathering on 14 December, told us: “The next meeting will take place on January 25… [it] will not be open to members of pre-existing democratic-centralist revolutionary organisations”.

In plain English: you want to ban AWL members from the discussion.

Leave aside for now exactly how to define “democratic centralist”. Stalinist abuse of that term has complicated debate.

Some of you have defined what you want LT to be as “democratic centralist”. So it’s not the very idea of an all-weathers, all-fronts, cohesive, effective socialist group, capable of prompt collective action, that you dislike: you just want your meeting, and your incipient group, to have no cohesive collective in it other than your inner circle.

You want to be able to draw in scattered individuals with whom you have contact through your work in the backrooms of The World Transformed, but who now may have interest in activist organisation (beyond TWT’s efforts to organise debates and forums and so on), and make sure they find a single “faction” making prepared proposals to them, namely yourselves.

All the statements so far from LT, including this one about excluding AWL, come from a shadowy inner circle, self-appointed and anonymous. It’s an even worse form of “centralism” than in some bureaucratically-organised “left groups” where at least the members know who’s imposing the decisions on them and usually have some right to vote on who should be that inner circle.

Most left-wing activists think that the left groups are too divided. And with some reason. AWL’s response has been to seek collaboration with other left groups wherever we can, and dialogue where the disagreements are too big for us to work together.

We’ve had mergers with other groups, we helped initiate the Socialist Alliance of 1999-2002, we constantly have ad hoc collaborations. AWL exists as a separate group not because some inner circle first decided it wanted “its own” group, then worked out ways to justify the separation, but in large part because our forerunners were expelled from other groups.

You’ve put out a set of “Foundational Principles”. We agree with the broad drift, but then they’re so vague and skimpy that almost any leftist would agree with them (apart, maybe, from the clause that says “we are Labour Party members”. That’s unclear. Does it mean an orientation to the Labour Party, or does it mean that leftists “auto-excluded” from Labour in 2015 and 2016, for being leftists, are excluded from LT too?).

We’ve heard from Labour for a Socialist Europe that it contacted you to ask if you’d back a protest at the French embassy to support the French strikes. You replied that you were “not in a position” to take a decision on that.

Your political basis is not enough to equip you to decide even on whether to back the French strikes — let alone to deal with tricky questions in the left like Brexit or antisemitism or the current US-Iran conflict.

You talk grandly about “a mass-membership organisation, drawn from the rank and file of the Labour movement [with] a collective political vision”. But to have a political vision you need… politics. You can develop adequate politics only by learning from the existing stock of ideas, and debating and discussing alternatives. Not by assuming that you have a miraculous ability to develop “new ideas” off the top of your heads if only you can erect solid enough shields against having to debate them with others.

On 14 December we made a proposal which could allow people from TWT to turn fruitfully to ongoing activism: to initiate a confederal organisation of the Labour left, enabling the various Labour-left “issue campaigns” (Labour Campaign for Free Movement, Free Our Unions, Labour for a Socialist Europe, Labour Homelessness Campaign, and others) to work together on a consensus basis to defend and improve left-wing policies from 2019 and push the Labour Party into action on them.

That would make sense. To bar the doors and telling your invitees: you are now a new “left group” with us as your leadership, follow us! — that makes no sense and is unlikely to “work” even in the most minimal way.

Martin Thomas

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