A new left party must be both democratic and ecological

Alan Thornett of Socialist Resistance explains why any new party of the left must have democracy and ecology at its core. This is partly in response to the article by Tom Walker ‘Just how left wing is the Green Party?’

Alan ThornettKen Loach’s call for a new party of the left around the launch of The Spirit of 45’ is a great move. It could not have come at a better time, and Left Unity has done well to take it up so strongly. It is an appeal for unity at a time when unity both against austerity and as a political response could hardly be more important.

There remains a desperate need for working class representation with the rightward march of Labour and there is an increasing need for a political dimension to the struggle against austerity that can provide an alternative vision for the future alongside opposition to the cuts.

Ken’s call has created a new opportunity for the left to break out of the impasse in this regard which has existed since the failure of previous broad projects and since Respect’s breakthrough in Bradford was squandered by George Galloway. With three thousand replies (and rising) to the appeal within a few days a discussion has opened up as to how and when a new party can/or should be launched and what its political character should be.

I want to raise some issues which, which, in my view, recent experience has shown to be particularly important.

The first is that it should also be a class struggle based, anti-austerity, party with a vision of different society and it should strive to win influence in the trade unions.

The second is that any new organisation should be a party (rather than a federal structure like TUSC) and it should have completely democratic internal structures. Experience shows that people/activists will not commit themselves to such a party unless they feel that they have a genuine say, expressed in a vote where necessary, in the policies and direction of such a party—and why should they?

A new party therefore must be a genuinely democratic and pluralist organisation. It should be a membership-based organisation with supporting organisations affiliated to it and functioning inside it—Syriza could be a rough model for this, though its history and circumstances are very different.

Such a party must be accessible to women members, taking their needs and concerns seriously and ensuring that they have an autonomous space in the organisation though which to organise if they so wish. It needs to value the contribution of feminism and take a strong stance against violence in the labour movement.

Crucially it must have active branches which exist on the ground and which function between elections. It has to have an internal life to which its members can relate. Organisations which affiliate to it must, unlike in the past with the Socialist Alliance and Respect, function through it for campaigning purposes and accept the authority of its decision making processes.

At the electoral level experience has repeatedly shown that unless a candidate has a known record, or is high profile as a former MP for example, to which voters can quickly relate, parachuting candidates, even very good candidates, into constituencies just prior to elections and disappearing again afterwards is a road to nowhere.

This approach is discrediting the left. It leaves Labour unchallenged and the left floundering around with no credible vehicle to mount a challenge when an election comes around. This is particularly the case under the electoral conditions in Britain with the scandalous FPTP election system which makes it difficult to vote for alternative candidates.

Thirdly such a party, in my view, must have a serious commitment to ecology and to climate change.

We are facing a world crisis which is a dual crisis of the ecology as well as the economy of the planet. Yet the environment has slipped further down the list of priorities of the left in recent years – even where it was there in the first place. It was a weak aspect of the politics of Respect from the outset and it is a weak part of the platform and practice of TUSC today. It would be a big mistake if a new party, if it emerges from this opportunity, did not make a break with this trend.

We have a coalition government which is demolishing any meagre environmental measures which might exist before our eyes. They are promoting the dash for gas and the rise of fracking and they have just given the go-ahead for a new nuclear power station.

Climate change driven by human activity is threatening a catastrophe of unknown proportions. Carbon emissions are increasing and global warming is accelerating. Weather patterns because more chaotic. The polar ice is melting, the seas are rising, the glaciers are retreating and the deserts are expanding. Extreme weather events (droughts, storms, floods) are becoming far more common. We are approaching a tipping point where which could take these changes beyond human control.

Lowy_Ecosocialism Or BarbarismWhat is posed today is not just socialism but ecosocialism. This is a declaration that the ecological issues are not just an add-on to an existing list of priorities but are central to the priorities of the left. It is a signal that we reject the capitalist logic of insatiable growth and look towards production for need and not profit.

This is also important because a new party will have to define itself politically under conditions where the Green Party—which is not going to go away as a party of the left despite the disastrous decisions taken in Brighton to support a cuts budget—already exists. What has given the Green Party under Caroline Lucas and now under Natalie Bennett (neither of whom supported the decisions taken in Brighton) its radical edge is that they have sought with some success to move it to a position where it supports social justice with equal weight to ecological justice.

Any new party which might come out of this Ken Loach/Left Unity initiative is going to have to deal with the Green Party in terms of the constituencies it chooses to fight and it is going to have to compete with it as another party of the left where this is not possible.


14 responses to “A new left party must be both democratic and ecological”

  1. Philip Hosking says:

    A left-wing party that was committed to answering the English question as opposed to ignoring would make a change. To appeal to both those who support English regionalism AND also those who support an English parliament then why not offer a constitutional convention, public debate and referendum to settle the issue.

    • David Fogden says:

      Worried that the new left keep going on about the British working class. There is no such thing unless the new left support imperialism.

  2. Salman Shaheen says:

    I agree entirely. I remember always thinking Respect was too weak on the environment, despite its strengths in other areas. I remember an article one Respect member wrote defending its environmental stance. “Environment is one of the letters in Respect so it is clearly important to us”, the article said. Well Labour is one of the words of Labour and that doesn’t mean much does it? As with all areas of activity such as actions against austerity and for equality, a new party of the left must be involved in the struggle for a sustainable planet from the bottom up, working closely with the Greens and other environmentalist activists. It cannot just be lip service.

  3. Sean Thompson says:

    An excellent article, Alan. I thoroughly agree.

  4. theo says:

    This is crucial. Green and Red are essential to securing any kind of future. Capitalism pits environment against economy and the labour movement echoes it. Neither the Green perspective that puts defending the biosphere first or the Red one that tags environment on as an after thought can save us. We need to claim the biosphere as our common community, but also to insure that working class communities are not made to pay for the protective measures which must now be urgently taken. The only measures which can permanently protect it now require democratic planning of publicly owned resources. The truth is that our green measures could compliment and enhance our lives as workers.

    We won’t be starting from that common understanding. But the meeting of green and red elements in an over-riding commitment to make this work will lead to mutual education

  5. jq mark says:

    yes it must be both ecological and socialist, but i would like to caution against going into electoral polictics to soon an non-electoral left force might be best intially. any good leftist should know elected representatives do not have god like powers there are many more centres of power in society than elected office. any new left party would face the same dilemnas as any other that has been created would. the green politics is a form of left politics with its own tradition and if you look at its history has entered in to all the same pitfalls as other forms of left politics.

  6. John Penney says:

    It would be nice if the objectives of the Green Party and “environmentalism” generally could be a seamless mesh with those of a radical mass socialist party. Unfortunately I doubt if this is so. Not only because of the fundamental reformism of the Green Party, but also because any radical socialist party hoping to attract a mass working class base needs to be aiming to fundamentally restructure the current UK economic sectoral mix – away from an ever greater domination by financial services and services/retailing generally. This long term trend has left most of the UK as deindustrialised economic wasteland, with low paid or no jobs for huge numbers of citizens. A socialist party manifesto would have to aim to get the finance sector firmly under control, reduce its size and REINDUSTRIALISE the UK economy – to make our own goods (rather than exporting the pollution and jobs for what we actually consume to other nations).

    This vital aspect of a radical socialist agenda, no matter how high tech and minimally polluting new manufacturing industries could be, would not go down well with the Green movement. Yet the largely middle class Green movement is not our target support base – it is the working class – desperate for hope , for well paid, skilled, jobs.

    This is not to decry the many sincere socialists in the Green movement – but the aims of environmentalism and radical socialism, though overlapping are simply not the same. Any hope that both movements can march in step for an unlimited period are doomed to disapointment.

    • jq mark says:

      you have just summed up why some green/eco socialist/marxist greens prefer the green party or non-electortal anarchist and pressure groups to being in a far-left group. i remember going to a meeting of a far-left group that was on ecological issues and the members were clearly argueing with there own speaker that these issues were nt important. and no i dont understand why there has to be an economic growth i always saw socialism about being the reordering of priorities there is enough for everyones need already but not everyones greed further economic growth will kill our life support systems.

      • John Penney says:

        I’m sorry, but you simply haven’t addressed at all in any way my main point, ie, that to create millions of desperately needed real, skilled, well paid jobs for the mass of the UK population, and break the parasitic dominance of the uncontrollable, and in the UK disproportionately large, and profoundly unproductive financial sector, A radical socialist agenda must include reindustrialisation. This also implies a massive reduction in the size of the financial sector, and the more parasitic parts of the service sector (eg, advertising agencies, etc), so it could be seen as essentially a “changing in proportions of the key economic sectors” , indeed a ”
        reordering of priorities” rather than “growth” per se. However. the manufacturing sector simply is more polluting than the financial services and services sectors in basic output of Co2 etc. So a shift to a higher manufacturing mix does imply more pollution in the UK. The upside of course is that we would actually be “repatriating” the pollution we currently export to the countries capitalism has moved our manufacturing base to, and can no doubt reduce it by a factor of 10 compared to the complete lack of pollution controls in places like China.

        I don’t want to be too harsh but I’m afraid your complete failure to address my point about the need for huge numbers of well paid JOBS inand across the UK, whilst simply repeating your very generalist “ecological concerns” illustrates very well the vast gulf between so many in the Green Movement and radical socialists intent on the winning of masses of working class people to socialist ACTIVISM.

    • theo says:

      Ultimately, the aims of environmentalism and radical socialism must be identical, but their advocates don’t necessarily understand that yet. The left which was forged in the struggles of the industrial working class needs to take on the new understanding we have of ecology and the human place within it. The Green movement needs to align itself with the interests of the working class majority and ending the domination of private ownership. An influential number of greens are owning-class utopians, but there is no objective contradiction between the interests of humans and the interests of the bigger biosphere we are part of. If there is, we are all finished.

      • jq mark says:

        see JOHN penney comment ,
        if you dont mean to be to harsh then thats ok. i think i would choose to recommend you look at the new economics foundation green new deal report or the campaign against climate change million climate jobs report. on green and left politics and are they really compatible you could look at the rise of the green left by derek wall. these things may or may not answer your points.

  7. William Leahy says:

    I believe that the next Party should be modelled on the Pressure group Action 38 where the the members vote for the Agenda by selecting the options laid out and voted on by the members. Also it should be an Internet party. I believe that Action 38 is best placed to be the political party in the UK and the one that could unite the Left.

  8. David Walker says:

    The Greens have a great manifesto for committed reformists from the middle class and that’ll empower the working classes. If you’re going to overturn the current ruling elite, then a broad base is needed. I don’t want to see the working class turn on the middle class, I want to see as much unity as possible to fight against the ruling class. The Green Party might have many middle class members but that is a bonus not a handicap. It means we can appeal cross-class and areas. Councillors efforts in Brighton are primarily focused on protecting the poor as well as helping the environment. Next year, I hope to see council tax proposals to tax the rich more and the reduce the tax the poor pay, as well as raise money for the council. When we get elected into office, we must fight and not walk away.

    Many Labour voters in Brighton I speak to say they’ll switch to voting Green sooner or later. Labour isn’t Labour for them anymore.

  9. Peter Garbutt says:

    The more articles or responses I read about the Green Party written by Leftists, the better I understand just how little real research they’ve done into the Green Party.
    And for anyone to insist on mass working class anything needs to claw their way out of Marx’s 19th Century and into the 21st.
    Productivism is the parent of growth, and growth is the cancer that will eventually kill us all; and whilst I certainly want to see the financial sector at the service of society – rather than milking it dry – and a planet composed of resilient communities able largely to fend for themselves, I don’t want rank consumerism (which is the bauble dangled in front of our greedy little eyes by capitalists) to feed into a growing demand for resources which are increasingly rare.
    Greens have arrived at an analysis of the present and the future in which capitalism is every bit as evil as Marx painted it, and more, because Marx failed to see the full ecological implications it brings with it. Industrialism brings blessings and curses, and we must try and adapt it to serve a greener future. That means different ownership models for the means of production, and different economic models for the supply of goods. If you’re concerned about jobs, we’re concerned about striking a balance between individualism and community spirit and about equality, about the quality of education and of life in general, and we look far wider than just jobs to try and produce that end.
    So I implore all those on the left who have a metaphorical sneer on their lips when talking about the Green Party to look much more closely into it as it really is. And I also implore you to think with an open mind about what it means to be an electoral party, rather than just a faction shouting from the sidelines.

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