Four goals for a new left party
By Duncan Chapel
November 14, 2009 -- Socialist Resistance -- The people on this platform share a lot of ideas.
- We want a working-class party to the left of the Labour Party, with a socialist program that confronts the dual crises of the ecology and the economy, which the ruling class is struggling to contain
- We want a party in which anti-capitalists are hegemonic, but not monolithic. We have to be open to everyone who’s for the class struggle, not just those with Marxist ideas
- We want a party of struggle, based on the ground, that’s developing a movement of resistance as well as an electoral campaign.
That’s a lot of agreement. It’s meaningful. It’s new. We like it.
But what’s the next step? Where do we go from here? And in particular, some of us are in different places -- so that means different routes to the same destination. Socialist Resistance has four ideas we want to share with you about our idea of the route to a new party.
1. We need a party based on the struggle, not just a party for the election
In this crisis, the capitalists are starting a new offensive against social and democratic rights to increase the exploitation of labour and protect profits. Western governments are making working people pay for the crisis: “just as before, or almost and perhaps worse”.
There’s an employers’ offensive in the workplace to protect profits, and that will impact the trade unions, but there’s also a state offensive which hits women and the black communities hard. So the bosses’ talk of a recovery is starting to sound very contradictory when benefits and public services are cut, taxes are increased and the government starts fingering scapegoats: migrant workers and the black communities.
So we need a party that builds itself up from the grassroots, and on rebuilding a cultural of solidarity there. The postal workers’ strike was a great example of that. Many postal workers were inspired, touched -- some even amazed by the solidarity they won. But the active solidarity was a tiny part of what could have been -- the huge public support they have in their struggle against privatisation.
That illustrates something. There’s a space to the left of the Labour government. And, as Labour moves right, that space looks huge. The Scottish Socialist Party, Respect, the Socialist Labour Party , Plaid Cymru, the Greens, the new coalition of the Communist Party of Britain and the Socialist Party -- they are picking up those votes. But many of those people to the left of social democracy are passive rather than active. You see that internationally: former voters for social democrats are staying at home rather than holding their noses. That passivity is dangerous, and the [fascist] British Nationalist Party also benefit from it.
There’s something to be learnt about the way Respect came out of the mass movement against the war. Respect recruited almost 6000 members, and without a mass movement it would have faced a much more challenging task. Its achievements, both electorally and its roots in migrant communities, reflected the way that Respect seems to be the only party that spoke for working people against the war.
But what we will see after the next election is that the landscape will look a little different. If there’s a new party – or even a new coalition – it won’t start with a broader base unless it reaches out. As this offensive builds up, people and organisations will have to decide whether and how far they go into struggle. We need a party that not only give a voice to those people’s concerns, but help make it easier for people to link up in struggle.
2. Start at the start, not at the end.
That space to the left of the Labour Party is filled with anger and struggle, but not with Marxist ideas. We’d love to see a united revolutionary Marxist organisation in Britain, but such an organisation would still be tiny compared to the much bigger opportunity, which is for a party that’s to the left of Labour and which consistently stands with the struggle.
That party won’t start off calling itself communist. You can even see from the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) in France, which stands for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, that such a party may not end up calling itself communist. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Communism is the fight to abolish the capitalist system. A real communist party is a real active movement against capitalism, not just a society for proselytising idealist utopias.
But the real movement isn’t a pile of tin cans, all neat and impermeable. It’s chaotic, contradictory and dynamic and the tasks of socialists are to learn and lead, not to preach. So it’s fruitless, for example, to demand or expect that a new party develops a political program that’s more developed than the people it’s based on. The NPA is based on people with deep revolutionary and communist roots, so it’s a revolutionary party. And the left in France is clearly, actually, through daily practice, bisected between those on the soft left who want to participant in capitalism and the NPA which wants to abolish it. In Britain, we have a much bigger opportunity because that division isn’t so clear to most people. If you look at the program of Respect, or the People's Charter, or the so-called left wing program of the CPB, they all raise exactly the sort of demands around which we can develop mass united action and build a new party. We should aim to win the whole space to the left of social democracy, as the Left Bloc has done in Portugal, not just to organise the Marxists.
That’s what we have the opportunity to build: a grassroots party which serves, organises and defends the working class both in the struggle and at the ballot box.
3. The crucial struggle for a democratic party will require patience and tenacity
If you only want to get on the ballot paper, then you don’t need a grassroots party. You can see that with the SLP. But there’s a lot for the left to learn negatively from the SLP. The SLP started with a huge set of advantages: Arthur Scargill, despite everything, was widely loved and revered for his role in the 1980s miners' strike. And you knew where you were with him, even if you didn’t revere him. The Clause 4 struggle in the Labour Party also meant that a big part of the labour left was there for the picking. But despite a lot of people joining, the SLP could not develop as a real party because everyone quickly learnt that only Scargill was allowed to influence things. In particular, people coming out of the Labour Party and the trade unions knew what workers’ democracy looked like, and can smell a stitch up a mile away.
What we learnt from the SLP, and got right in the Socialist Alliance, was that a transparent and democratic way of functioning was essential to integrating members and developing momentum
So, that said, why is that we ended up 10 years later with No2EU, which also lacked any real democratic structure? Honestly, we have to partly blame the Socialist Workers Party which used its numerical superiority to dominate organisations. That almost killed Respect. It made the Socialist Party and some others very anxious about the sort of grassroots, participatory democracy we need. In No2EU, only the founders have a voice -- and each of them also had a veto on the others. When every vote needs to be unanimous, it’s not surprise that democracy starts to look unworkable.
But, in fact, it’s the lack of democracy that’s unworkable. And that gives us a special challenge. A new party is probably not going to start off with perfect democracy. It would be mistaken to refuse to join a real party because of that; it would not help us in any way. But it would be a crucial error to not argue for deeper and more real democracy in such a party. That’s essential to building a real party. If the members make mistakes, then can learn. But if the members cannot make decisions, then no-one can learn and the life of the party is suffocated.
4. The needs of women, migrant workers and the black communities have to be central
The organised labour movement has little to say about what happens outside unionised workplaces. Worldwide, the burden of the crisis falls mainly on women and migrants. In Britain, we also see this amazing level of youth unemployment. A new party has to stand up for the interests of those people.
Women are the first victims of the world recession. According to the International Labour Organisation, 22 million women worldwide will lose their jobs in 2009. They are hit first by massive redundancies in the services, health and clothing industries. There more pressures: dropping out from school, less work, poverty.
In the same way, the recession also produces authoritarian solutions. Anti-immigrant policies gain strength. There are massive movements of people, particularly from poor countries to rich ones because of globalisation and the growth of trade, the impoverishment of the global South by the powers of the global North, and ecological and food-related disasters. The crisis worsens all the phenomena of exploitation and oppression of immigrants. Racist movements make them scapegoats. We have to advance a policy of defence of the rights of immigrants: not just self-defence, but also to defend their civil rights and cultural freedom.
Key to all of that is linking up all the attacks — by the state, the employers and the fascists – to the capitalist system they defend.
[Duncan Chapel gave this speech for Socialist Resistance at the Anticapitalism rally on November 14. Also on the platform were speakers from the Scottish Socialist Party, Surrey United Anti-Capitalists and Workers’ Power.]