Britain: Is the left coming together or falling apart?

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By Socialist Resistance (Britain)

January 29, 2013 -- This is the editorial from the latest issue of the British socialist newspaper Socialist Resistance -- Recent events on the [British] left give the impression that it is falling apart. Last summer, following George Galloway’s outrageous comments on rape, Respect suffered the resignation of Kate Hudson, Andrew Burgin, Salma Yaqoob and others. Now, the Socialist Workers Party is tearing itself apart after its leadership tried to protect one of its own from allegations of rape in order to “defend the party”.

The issue which brought about a crisis in these organisations is their failure to recognise that women’s oppression exists in society and therefore also in their organisations, that male activists can act in a sexist manner and that dealing with this, just like racism or homophobia, cannot wait until the revolution. But it is also about other issues. It is about the culture of political organisations inherited from the worst periods of the left, that is of organisations who believe they are infallible, with charismatic and unaccountable leaders, in which internal democracy is seen as an obstacle to action, which believe they have the “truth” and that their organisation will eventually triumph over others on the left.

The crisis engulfing the SWP, and before that Respect, is occurring when there is a desperate need to provide a political alternative to the policy of austerity of both New Labour and the ConDems [the ruling Conservative Party-Liberal Democrat party coalition]. The total acceptance of neoliberalism by New Labour means that there is no independent political representation for the working class at a national level. The time is now gone when the idea that putting pressure on a Labour government to meet the needs of people had some credibility.

The election of George Galloway as MP in Bradford shows that there is a huge space for the left to fill. It is a space which the radical right is also filling, whether it is UKIP in Britain, or Golden Dawn in Greece. But the tradition in Britain of too many revolutionary organisations is that they each prefer to be the big fish in their own small pond, rather than have the ambition of building a new mass-based broad party of the left of which they would be one component. The current crisis in the SWP is exposing the underlying and terminal illness of this model of revolutionary political strategy and organisation.

Some have explained the failure of their own party to grow in this period by arguing that there is a crisis of parties in general as a form of organisation. But it is the traditional parliamentary parties of the left and the right which have suffered. They are discredited as they impose austerity and bail-out the capitalist system at the expense of ordinary people. But where there is a party that argues for a radical break from austerity, welcomes into its fold socialists from different traditions, encourages mass mobilisations and declares that it is ready for government, then it can grow dramatically. That is the experience of Syriza in Greece. It has given hope to ordinary people that the sacrifices they have endured in the struggle since 2008 have been worthwhile as there can be a political solution with a government committed to defend their interests and attack the rich.

By declaring its intention to form a government of the left, Syriza opens the road to stopping austerity with anti-capitalist measures. It also opens the road for revolutionary Marxists to win a mass audience to the idea that only a fundamental transformation of society can permanently protect the gains and ensure that the system is run not for private profit but to meet the needs of people and the planet.

Of course, it is in a period a social upheaval that a new broad party of the left can grow by leaps and bounds. But we all have to start the process now of creating such a party. Its existence, even in an embryonic form, would encourage the struggle against austerity and give hope to millions that there is an alternative to backing Labour as the option of the lesser evil.

There is a huge gap in the strategy of some on the left who call for a general strike to bring down the ConDem government, but are silent on what to do should it happen except to “join the socialists”. Recognising the weakness of their strategy, they are silent on whether to call for the return of Labour to government, or to take the steps towards a new broad party of the left to replace it. Such a new party would have the ambition of eventually forming a government, like Syriza has, to meet the needs to the working class instead of those of the bosses and the bankers.

It is the attempt to go beyond the option of the lesser evil of New Labour that has recently encouraged initiatives which go in the direction of a new party of the left. The National Health Action Party was launched at the end of last year to defend the National Health Service (NHS), against commercialisation and privatisation. There is still the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, which attempts to provide a modest electoral alternative. Recently, Owen Jones discussed the possibility of a network of the left that could unite around political alternatives and campaign against austerity. This would be a step forward, but avoids the question of what sort of government and therefore what sort of party is needed. And finally there is the appeal from Kate Hudson and others, backed by Socialist Resistance, for Left Unity to discuss the possibility of a new broad political formation of the left. These attempts at political recomposition on the left are to welcome and Socialist Resistance will participate in all aspects of the process with the aim of establishing a new broad party.

But we also want to overcome the dispersion of Marxists into far too many groups. A real convergence would give hope that a new model of revolutionary organisation is possible for the 21st century. This is a separate process from that of a new broad party of the left which must not become a front for revolutionary organisations in a repeat of its worst traditions.

Nearly 165 years since the Communist Manifesto was published, Karl Marx’ words that “Communists have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole” are just as true now as they were then.

[Socialist Resistance is the ecosocialist magazine produced by the British section of the Fourth International, also named Socialist Resistance.]