LYL is taking positive steps to turn outwards and link up with workers in struggle. But the organisation is still being held back by a lack of democratic political debate.
London Young Labour (LYL) held a summer conference on Saturday 25 August. At this, a campaign to unite in struggle with young workers in London was voted as LYL’s priority campaign moving forward.
This campaign, and the fact that this conference took place at all, are big steps forward for LYL.
Back in February this year, a Momentum-backed slate of candidates won elections to the LYL committee. They have abolished the old passive approach of the party’s right wing by organising this summer conference to discuss important political ideas and bring the party closer to the organised working class.
The political discussions at the event – on Brexit, access to education, and imperialism – were valuable. It is by tackling big questions like this that we can inspire young people to get involved in politics.
In the Brexit discussion several people suggested that a Labour government might be able to secure a better Brexit agreement with the EU than the Tories could do. Some even said that Labour should stop Brexit altogether and support staying in the EU.
By contrast, Socialist Appeal supporters pointed out that neither the Tories nor the EU leaders have any interest in giving working class people a good Brexit deal.
Instead, we argued, Corbyn should be linking up with Mélenchon in France and other left-wing European leaders to formulate a proposal for a Socialist United States of Europe, as a real alternative to the bosses’ club of the EU.
Amongst the speakers on the panel for the Brexit discussion was Eddie Dempsey, a leading member of the RMT union. Eddie made several excellent points combatting the idea raised by some people at the conference that the EU is some kind of progressive institution.
The European Union has capitalism, exploitation and imperialism written into its foundations, and has nothing to offer the working class of Europe.
However, Eddie bent the stick too far when he said, in reference to Brexit, that “socialism in one country is better than socialism in no country”. We should be clear that Brexit on its own will take us no closer to socialism in Britain than if we were part of the EU.
The only thing that can bring us closer to that is a mass movement of the organised working class – one which, if it is to be successful, must be international. There can be no such thing as “socialism in one country”. And certainly a Tory-led Brexit won’t bring socialism of any kind any closer.
Bold and firm
Recently, Eddie has been vigorous in his defence of Jeremy Corbyn against the anti-Semitism smears that the Labour right wing have been trying to hysterically whip up.
As a result of defending Corbyn, Eddie has himself been targeted by the Labour right wing. They demanded that he be banned from speaking at the LYL conference, using his presence as an excuse to boycott the conference. Some even confronted him when he arrived in an attempt to intimidate him into pulling out of the panel discussion.
Thankfully, neither Eddie nor the LYL committee capitulated to the right-wingers. This firmness is exactly the kind of attitude we need to have across the entire labour movement in the face of such sabotage and smears.
In the discussion on access to education there were some good points raised by the panel about the privatisation of education and cuts to funding. But little was said about how to fight this.
Socialist Appeal supporters, however, raised the need for a fundamental transformation of society. We need nationalisation without compensation of big business and the abolition of private schools, in order to fund free education for all. This received support from the conference attendees, although the panel themselves were clearly not in favour of such bold socialist policies.
Unite the struggles
Workshops were held on how to build local Young Labour groups. The focus on political discussion and campaigning on real political issues (instead of just door knocking for right-wing councillors) was very welcome.
One member who was keen to form a Young Labour group, however, asked how he was supposed to do so when the only active young members of his CLP were five straight white men. This, he stated was a barrier, given that having self-identifying BAME, disabled, LGBT and women’s officers is compulsory for Young Labour groups.
This shows, very concretely, the barrier to our movement posed by a focus on identity politics. Surely it would be better to set up a new Young Labour group – which has the potential to grow and fight for the rights of BAME, disabled, LGBT and women’s rights, as part of a united struggle – than to have nothing at all?
Instead, however, these enthusiastic youth are being prevented from doing this, just because they don’t identify in the necessary way, leaving working class youth and oppressed young groups in the area without any representation or political organisation to turn to.
Transparency and democracy
The conference was billed as an opportunity to vote on LYL’s priority campaign for this year. This is an important decision, because it will be the basis on which we will involve new people with LYL in between regional or national events.
It was therefore disappointing that only ten minutes was given over to this discussion, with no procedure for submitting proposals (nor any actual proposals) circulated in advance. The only proposals in the end came from committee members themselves.
When openly questioned about this by Socialist Appeal supporters, the committee’s response was that they “are not constitutionally obliged to hold this meeting at all”. This, the conference was told, means that the committee is apparently allowed to do whatever they like when it comes to procedure and transparency.
Needless to say, this poor explanation did not go down well with conference attendees, one of whom commented: “what do they expect us to do – just say ‘thank you’ and shut up while they do what they want?”
The campaign which was voted through in the end has the potential to be a good choice and could play an important role in building the forces of LYL over the next months.
The undemocratic method by which it was voted through, however, was no different to the days when the Blairites ran LYL. It is an example of an unwillingness to really allow young people to engage with and influence their own political organisation.
This general attitude will have contributed, partly, to the relatively poor turnout of around sixty people at the conference. Unless this is corrected, it will mean that LYL is unable to connect with the most radical and energetic layers of young people looking towards the Corbyn movement.
Fight for socialism
Socialist Appeal supporters at the conference raised the need for LYL to support the Labour4Clause4 campaign. This means fighting for Labour to nationalise the top 150 companies and put an end to the anarchy of the free market by ending capitalism.
Socialist Appeal supporters spoke with Emma Dent Coad – Labour MP for Kensington and Chelsea, who delivered the keynote speech at the conference – about this campaign. She expressed her support for the campaign’s aims and said that she would raise it with several other Labour MPs who she thought might be interested.
Overall, we can be positive about the direction being taken by LYL, as this conference shows. However, the bureaucratic approach to political organising that afflicts the leadership of Momentum seems to be seeping into other parts of the Labour left, and this was on display at this LYL conference.
LYL must continue to hold political discussions and debates. Clarifying the need for bold socialist policies is urgent.
But LYL must not just be a discussion club. Its debates and panels must lead to decisions being taken – involving every young member of the Labour Party in London – about the campaigns and policies of LYL.
This is the only way that we can become a serious mass force, capable of fighting for the radical, socialist transformation of society.