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Building Left Unity: where to begin?

The response to Ken Loach’s Appeal “to discuss the formation of a new political party of the Left to bring together those who wish to defend the welfare state and present an economic alternative to austerity” indicates that this is an idea whose time has comeKady Tait looks at what steps we need to achieve this potential and the pitfalls we need to avoid.

The need for such a party is clear enough. The economic crisis of the capitalist system has thrown millions out of their jobs, increasing poverty and insecurity on those still in work while the party of the billionaires and their Liberal-Democrat partners demolish the welfare state, decimate jobs in the public sector and freeze the wages of those who remain.

The central idea raised in Ken Loach’s inspiring film The Spirit of ’45, and his Appeal; that we need a new party to defend the welfare state, created by the Clement Attlee’s post-war Labour government, but abandoned by his recent successors, has found an echo well beyond the organised left.

As we go to press, more than 8000 people have signed up to support Ken’s call, 85 local groups have already been formed. And the numbers grow daily.

Millions are waking up to the realisation that the NHS, state education, welfare for the sick, disabled and jobless, face destruction in the last two years of the Coalition’s life and that “waiting for Labour” would allow this to happen.

The desire for a serious political force willing and able to stop the cuts is also prompted by the feeble opposition of Labour to this onslaught and the failure of the post-Gordon Brown leadership to really break with “New Labour”. Indeed Ed Miliband’s launch of  “Blue Labour” shows that that the policy of aping the Tories and Lib Dems to attract the voters of ‘Middle England’ still grips the party’s leaders in parliament.

They have refused to oppose outright the destruction of the welfare state or even to sound the alarm bells that it is happening and Miliband has repeatedly criticised workers who strike to defend their jobs, pay and pensions.  Labour councils have too easily done the Tories’ dirty work by closing local services and cutting jobs.

The positive response to Ken Loach’s appeal also reflects a growing realisation that the current piecemeal character of union resistance to the cuts and the existence of several rival national anticuts campaigns is a totally inadequate response to the onslaught.

The crisis in the Socialist Workers Party and the stagnation of the Socialist Party at such a time underlines the fact that neither of the small far left organisations is offering an effective strategy.

A new fighting political party, with thousands of members rooted in the communities, is what is needed. But if it must not be a sect neither must it be a repetition of Old Labour, let alone of New or Blue Labour. It must be a party capable of democratically working out a strategy and then implementing it by unleashing a tidal wave of popular resistance.


A party to unite the struggle against the austerity government

Opposition to austerity has seen millions strike, walkout and protest. The will to fight back clearly exists but the Labour Party, the leaders of the big unions and the far left groups have all failed to develop a united resistance able to deploy the huge collective power of the working class.

Labour has absolutely no will to summon working people to revolt but neither do many of the right wing union leaders. They are hoping that the Coalition’s unpopularity will lead to a shoo-in for a Labour government, despite the fact that the party won’t even promise to stop – let alone reverse – the cuts.

The left union leaders continually promise coordinated action – some even talk of a general strike – yet somehow nothing effective comes of all this. The far left on the other hand continues to compete with each other in rival anti-cuts campaigns.

Amongst the youth the movements of 2010-11- the student revolt, the UK Occupy Movement, after initial successes failed to generate or sustain the mass movement needed to get real results. This has led to a certain disenchantment with the idea of  “leaderless” struggles.

This frustrating impasse has led people to realise that only a political organization- a party – can resolve this paralysis.  This idea has been reinforced by the emergence in Greece of Syriza (the Coalition of the Radical Left), which in 2012 nearly blocked the imposition of the Troika’s savage austerity programme.  It shot from 4.6 per cent in the elections of October 2009 to 26.89 in those of June 2012, becoming the second party in parliament. For many this re-raised the question of taking power and the importance of parties as weapons of resistance.

A new working class party in Britain must set itself the task of building a united working class resistance to Cameron and Clegg. This is not just a matter of passively listening to radical speeches – whether in a People’s Assembly in Central Hall Westminster or even at the end of a monster demonstration in Hyde Park – if one is called.

It will come from the direct involvement of thousands of today’s anticuts, student and union activists in working out a strategy to unite every local, regional and national struggle. It means bringing them together to discuss concrete policies and how to put them into practice. It means taking this debate into the workplaces; the communities, the pubs and clubs; everywhere people meet and discuss politics.

Avoiding the pitfalls of Labourism

But we should not forget the lessons of the rightward turn of the Labour Party under Blair and Brown, till its policies shadow those of the Tories, nor of the crushing of the left and the remnants of party democracy under Kinnock in the 1980s and 1990s.

The fixation of the party on the mirage of winning a majority by chasing the “floating voter” or the “squeezed middle” meant sacrificing a socialist programme and pro-working class policies to this goal. Likewise the old system of union block votes in the hands of a few general secretaries was usually a force to crush the left. And in office a Labour prime minister and cabinet were always free of any serious control even by their MPs, let alone by the party membership or annual conference.

These sources of disappointment and betrayal were always in the genetic code of Old Labour and they only came to full fruition under Blair and Brown. Any new party we build must avoid them by a creating a powerful rank and file democracy and adopting a bold socialist programme developed and understood by its membership – one whose road to power is not based on parliament but on mass direct action.

The real power in society is not found in parliament or in the town halls – it is in the hands of the capitalists who pay poverty wages, sack workers to protect profit, dodge taxes – and the bankers who trousered the £trillion taxpayer bailout in the forms of bonuses and golden handshakes.

The “right” of these people to plunder us is defended by unelected judges who ban strikes, the unaccountable police who harass and murder, the sexist justice system which refuses to challenge rape and sexual violence, the millionaires’ media which promotes the rulers’ ideology of racist and sexist division between ordinary people who have in common their common exploitation by a system which works to the profit of a few not the needs of the many.

Elections do however play a role in communicating what the programme of a working class government would be – it shows the existence of an alternative. But an electoral replacement of the Coalition by Labour will not by itself end the attacks on living standards. If we say that standing and electing MPs and councilors is the only or the prime measure of an organization’s effectiveness, then this will inevitably lead to trimming our programme and policies to win elections.

What sort of Party?

It must be able to mobilise real, active, mass forces not create a passive membership turned out for only for election campaigns, but a party of the working people, a party for every campaign, a party of resistance to every injustice. A party that is built from deep within every struggle – built from the inside out not brought from the outside in.

To do this effectively it must be a mass party whose base units are rooted in workplaces, housing estates and become bodies to which people will bring their problems. But unlike Labour it will be a party that offers a solution in which they will play an integral role. Our principal aim must be to build a campaigning and fighting organization – to struggle to overcome our divisions and unite the maximum forces around a democratically agreed strategy to resist the vicious measures that are raining down on us. Ultimately it must develop a perspective for turning the defensive struggle into the struggle for power.

Democracy in the party is key to achieving all this; it is informed both by periods of thorough discussion and free and open dissent leading to a decision and then determined action in pursuit of the agreed aim.

A party without policies or a programme is no party. The party will have to develop its own programme. This requires a serious process of democratic debate culminating in a truly representative conference, where all trends of opinion can freely express their views. From early on the new Party should adopt as its project developing a full strategic programme – a programme for political power.

This should be democratically discussed and developed by the whole party, in branches, city or regional conferences, specific drafting commissions, before its final adoption by a delegate conference. This is a process similar to that adopted (but not completed) by the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) in France. It has been used by SYRIZA in Greece.

Undoubtedly if we succeed in attracting large numbers of working class people, former Labour supporters, rank and file trade unionists, then many will retain a reformist or old left Labour perspective. Others will believe a revolutionary programme is necessary. All should express their opinions openly and these should be discussed and debated in a fraternal way – avoiding the disruption of agreed common action and campaigning. No one current be it reformist or revolutionary should seek to pre-empt or predetermine the outcome of such a programmatic discussion.

A Programme for Action

But in the short term the embryonic party needs an action programme or platform limited to the burning issues we need to fight for in 2013-14.

This limitation reflects the fact that the proto-party in its formative months or even years will have something of the character of a united front between different left tendencies that currently operate separately.

What might this initial platform contain? In the view of Workers Power it should at least be a party that fights to:

  1. Halt the privatisation and destruction of the welfare state – the NHS, public education, social services and pensions, culture – by all means necessary including direct action, strikes and occupations, up to and including a general strike to bring down the coalition government.
  2. Unite the rival national anticuts campaigns at the People’s Assembly – drawing in the many local anticuts committees and campaigns. Together we must formulate a national plan of action. We support the call for a huge demonstration of February 15 2003 proportions to launch mass action.

A party that:

  1. Supports the building of anti-bureaucratic rank and file movements in every union to deliver action with the union leaders if possible but without them where necessary.
  2. Supports the creation of autonomous movements of the unemployed and youth and a working class women’s movement.
  3. Opposes all imperialist wars and occupations abroad and state repression of civil rights at home in the name of the ‘war on terror’ or of delivering ‘humanitarian aid’.
  4. Supports the Arab revolutions and the fight of the Palestinians to return to their homeland.
  5. Opposes the savage austerity imposed by the rulers of the European Union on Greece, Cyprus and other countries and calls for Europe-wide actions in solidarity with all those fighting the cuts.
  6. Fights against racism, sexism, Islamophobia homophobia and all forms of social oppression.
  7. Fights against the capitalist destruction of the environment.

The New Left party should campaign to unite workers, students, welfare claimants and youth around the replacement of crisis-wracked capitalism with a democratically planned, ecologically sustainable, socialist system. The means needed to achieve this goal – whether by a social revolution or by a process of social reform  – will have to be democratically debated and discussed by the members of the new party before this is finally established in a programme.

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One Response to Building Left Unity: where to begin?

  1. Pingback: Left Unity: A chaotic yet positive start - AntiCapitalists

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