I had a day out in London on Saturday, going to the Left Unity meeting. There were about 30 of us there, half men and half women, and in general it was a good-humoured and productive meeting. In a packed programme bristling with amendments, motions, addenda and standing orders, it could easily have been a giant yawn, but the morning proceeded at a fair old lick and over lunch we discussed a split in one of the local groups. This is the sort of thing that makes my heart just fold up and go home and I was not looking forward to the afternoon’s discussion. But! Lo and behold the whole thing was settled by an eminently sensible woman who proposed the amalgamation of two motions. Thus everyone was relieved and the problem stands a good chance of being sorted. Terrific!
This experience caused me to ponder on the theme of conflict-resolution. The history of the Left has been fraught with splits, as parodied by Monty Python in “The Life of Brian”:
You don’t need me to go into it – we all know the issues back to front. But everyone in Left Unity, from the washiest liberal to the hardest-line Trot, understands that without resolving our differences we are going nowhere. Which is why the situation on Saturday gave me such heart – because it wasn’t just talking about conflict-resolution – it was putting it into practice, right then and there, when it was needed.
And here’s the thing. What often happens is that people start labelling each other. I once attended a local council meeting with my CND group, lobbying the council to declare itself a nuclear-free zone – and during that debate one of the Conservative councillors got up. Pointing a finger at us, she said, ‘I can spot a Trot at twenty paces.’ Hardly a helpful contribution to the debate. Labelling is far too easy: it sets your mind at rest but it closes down debate. We’ve all done it – ‘Tory bastards., .liberal wimps’, ‘hard-line Trots’, Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist etc etc etc: whatever you use, labels are damaging; but never more so than when used within a group who are aiming to be unified and to work together towards a particular goal. So as Gandhi said, let’s be the change we want to see, and affirm that whatever our disagreements we are all Left Unity.
Or whatever we end up calling ourselves. But that’s another argument…