Inside The LSA

At the London steering committee meeting on August 9 Red Action put forward a resolution which read: “In light of the 80,000 votes for the BNP in May, the doubling of recorded racial incidents, the overt hostility encountered by some LSA canvassers in Haringey, plus the Tories, despite playing the race card themselves, being knocked into third pace by the BNP in the Bexley by-election, this meeting recognises that the left is not winning the argument on the issue of race and immigration and the LSA support for current tactics and strategies are in need of urgent review.”

The resolution was discussed at the following meeting on September 5. In order to further clarify our concern with the way things were going, a supporting document was circulated to steering committee members before hand. On the evening itself, the debate was allowed approximately 20 minutes. As there were more than two dozen in attendance and many of them spoke, the debate as Weekly Worker admitted, was somewhat “truncated”.

The position forwarded by Red Action was straightforward. The Left was not winning the argument in working class areas. Particular criticism was reserved for ‘Refugees Welcome Here!’ type posters (‘the worst form of communication’). Even more damaging, the core message was seen to be “a declaration of a free standing principle without even a nod in the direction of class.”

Above all the LSA. “rather than allow the Right to continue to set the agenda. must strive to put [immigration] in a class context and socialise the issue instead.” On top of all that, the working class “is not unitary at this moment. In fact the cleavage is at least as great at this juncture, as the cleavage has at other time been between classes... In a nutshell the inalienable logic of arguments that seem self evident at one end of the class, can seriously alienate at the other”

While the subsequent debate was free of the racist inferences that so heavily disfigured debate in the UK Left Internet discussion site, and also in exchanges in the letters pages of the Weekly Worker, the contradictions were all too apparent. For example, in rebutting the need for any ‘review’, Weyman Bennett, LSA candidate for Haringey, maintained the slogans were ‘vote winners’: “Every meeting I went to I was applauded for our stance on the issue.” Even if there was time, it would have seemed churlish to point out that the vast majority at those meetings, were members of the his own party, the SWP!

Moreover the real problem was not with the 800-odd who voted LSA, but the 95%, of a largely working class constituency, who couldn’t bring themselves to do so. As many made clear on the doorstep, this alienation was not unrelated to the LSA presentation on asylum. Summing up, Bennett remarked that a class aspect was not entirely ignored, as “we had to raise class issues because of the stance of the council on refugees”.

Just as disingenuously, practically every speaker who spoke against the resolution went out of their way to place the refugee issue within the context of class. So ironically, in the process of defending the slogans, they choose to emphasise the missing content which formed the basis of the Red Action criticism of them!

Neither was it all one way traffic. A delegate from the Socialist Party said it would be a mistake to ‘dismiss the resolution out of hand’. It was critical he stressed that the arguments were class based. He quoted from his own experience an incident, which occurred within a packed, hostile and heavily BNP-influenced tenants meeting on the Isle of Dogs in 1993. By simply suggesting ‘tenants occupy yuppie flats in the area’ he effectively redirected anger away from the Asians being targeted, thereby splitting the racist consensus of the meeting. And if ‘Smash all Immigration Controls’ was considered such a vote winner it was ‘a little surprising it was dropped for the duration of the by-election campaign in Haringey’ a CPGB delegate remarked wryly. Two independents also spoke, both stressing the need for ‘LSA propaganda to be clearly understood’.

Summing up, the Red Action delegate reminded the committee, that “If propaganda has a purpose, it is to explain and convince”. As the current stance of the LSA does neither, the consequence, will he warned, not “affect immigration policy, won’t affect how individual refugees are treated, but, will seriously damage the credibility of the LSA in working class areas”.

Curiously when it came to the vote, the CPGB, Socialist Party, a delegate from the RDG plus the two independents all - abstained. Another delegate who actually voted against the Red Action resolution, admitted almost at once at being ‘unhappy at the dishonest way the debate was conducted’. It transpired she had canvassed in Haringey and had been instructed ‘not to bring race into it unless they do’.

If such behaviour was not odd enough, Mike Marqusee a leading and influential member, who had spoken most passionately against the need for any strategic review had a letter published in the Weekly Worker a fortnight later basically instigating one!

In the letter he argued “it was idle to expect any single slogan to strike a chord among the many different sections of a fragmented working class.” What is more, the existing LSA message “without contextualisation and inevitably some qualification does not add up,” he admitted. It is therefore vitally important, he concluded, “we find punchy ways to express the underlying class content of the issue.”

What does this show? Two things: one, the Left is determined to bring all the antiquated and discredited methods into the new formations. Secondly, the harsh reality of the political mainstream is forcing adjustments on them which could not be achieved by pure logic alone. At this pace of change, the Left will be entirely unrecognisable come the council elections in 2002 And it will need to be.