MISSION IMPOSSIBLE?- Fight to reconquer Labour or build a broad left party?

sisyphusA supporter of the Morning Star/CPB, under the pseudonym ‘Michael Ford’, has written the most substantial rebuttal of the proposal to found a new Left Party – “Left Unity’s Modest Flutter”, posted on the LU site. Here Phil Hearse examines Ford’s arguments.

Weighing in at more than 9000 words Ford’s article assesses almost every conceivable objection, from the weighty to the absurd. By analyzing his critique in depth we can be more precise about what the case for a new party actually is and on what basis it can be built.

Ford’s key argument is that the ‘main organisations of the working class’ – by which he means Unite, Unison and the GMB – are waging a campaign to win back the Labour Party from Blairite neoliberalism. This campaign is counterposed to the idea of building a broad left, socialist, party on the basis of the hundreds of thousands mobilized in the struggles against austerity, in the trade unions, the mass campaigns and the movements of the oppressed. Since this document was drafted we have been given, in the row with Unite over Falkirk, a spectacular view of how the Labour leadership will respond to even the slightest attempt to weaken the iron grip of the party bureaucracy over the selection of candidates (and anything else significant for that matter). We return to this central question below, but first let’s look at some of Ford’s subsidiary arguments.

Your space is already taken…what about TUSC and Respect?

According to Ford “… there is no explicit recognition of the fact that several such Left electoral parties already exist in Britain today – Respect, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and the Socialist Labour Party on the electoral side of things; with Solidarity and the Scottish Socialist Party in Scotland, as well as a variety of other far left parties, and not forgetting the Green Party which many people would certainly regard as ‘left’. So this is not a call for an occupation of presently empty territory.”

In fact Respect and the SLP disqualify themselves from any serious attempt to occupy the space to the left of Labour by their functioning as wholly owned subsidiaries under one man management. Arthur Scargill evicted any potential critics from the SLP in the mid-1990s and Respect is subject to the whim of George Galloway and his latest foot-in-mouth pronouncements. Neither has the capacity to embrace pluralist vision of socialism or become broad left parties and occupy the space to the left of Labour.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) cannot as presently constituted occupy the space to the left of Labour because it doesn’t have the ambition to; it is not a party but an electoral bloc in which the main forces are the Socialist Party and the RMT union. Left Unity has yet to decide its position on elections, but it is probable there is a big majority in favour of participating in elections and in that case it is quite likely that Left Unity will be involved in some sort of electoral agreement with the TUSC.

However a significant obstacle as far as the European elections are concerned is likely to be the TUSC decision, sanctioned by the RMT, the CPB/Morning Star and the Socialist Party, to re-run a “No to EU” campaign. In a situation where one of the main aspects of xenophobic reactionary mobilisation in Britain is knuckle-headed anti-Europeanism and little Englandism, this is a disaster. A “No to EU” campaign will have its voice confused with and overwhelmed by UKIP. Left opposition to the capitalist EU, and the fight for a democratic social Europe, cannot be posed in these terms and be electorally effective. It is a pity that the Socialist Party has been prepared to go along with it. (How a ‘left’ No to EU can chime in with xenophobic buffoonery was last week demonstrated by Dennis Skinner’s pathetic performance in the Commons, merely acting as an echo chamber for the Tory right).

But are the TUSC potential partners in creating a pluralistic Left party? To be honest you would have to say that it would require a period of more-or-less rapid political development before that was likely, but of course it should not be ruled out. For some of the forces involved therein the issues of feminism, pluralism and individual membership are likely to be obstacles. In the spirit of unity however it is not a matter of raising insuperable barriers but of political debate within the framework of joint action and campaigning.

As far as the Green Party is concerned this organisation certainly doesn’t occupy the political space Left Unity wants to occupy because of its politics. The Greens are no answer to the crisis of working class representation, despite the many socialists and progressives who operate within it. They are deliberately not a left wing or socialist party.

As far as Scotland is concerned it is my personal view that the new left party should not try to build in opposition to the existing Scottish Socialist Party and that comrades in Scotland who sympathise with Left Unity should join the SSP.

Overall none of the other left wing forces mentioned by Michael Ford are attempting to occupy the same space as Left Unity, none are trying to build a broad left party to the left of Labour (in England and Wales).

Reclaiming Labour?

Michael Ford’s fundamental argument on the Labour Party is that, although it’s difficult, the most realistic strategy for socialists is to back the trade unions leaderships’ campaign to win Labour away from New Labourism. This campaign according to Ford is being waged by the leaderships of Unite, Unison and the GMB.

He argues that the major obstruction to socialist advance and defence of progressive gains is the low level of struggle and the defeats the labour movement has suffered, which are the social base of New Labour. He says there is no chance of breaking out of that other than prolonged work of reconstituting the labour movement and promoting progressive policies and unity within it. In this the trade union-Labour Party nexus is vital. He says:

“The key element is the orientation towards the labour movement, which is to say towards the working class and its organisations, rather than a form of substitutionism which, while acknowledging the role of the working-class in the abstract, avoids engagement with it in practice and instead exalts the role of individual progressives.”

(Just in parenthesis it is frankly just not true that the kind of people in Left Unity, often with decades of experience in the unions, community campaigns, women’s organisations and socialist politics acknowledge the working class in abstract and avoid engagement in practice. Neither do they on the evidence I have seen ‘exalt the role of individual progressives’ – rather the opposite. )

Ford continues:

“Under circumstances of a stronger and developing working-class movement, can [the Labour Party] be turned into an instrument of deeper social advance – not a revolutionary party but one which can contribute towards opening up the way to socialism? The only honest answer at the moment is – who can say for sure? The main working-class organisations have set it as their task to try to accomplish that transformation after the disastrous New Labour episode – the first, and successful, step, being to work for the election of the best of the possible leaders on offer, Ed Miliband. Since then, some progress has been made away from the worst positions of New Labour but it has undeniably been uneven and incomplete – pretending New Labour is dead is as wrong as pretending nothing has changed since 2010 (the Left Party position in effect). No-one can assert that it is likely that a 2015 Labour government will master the economic crisis in the interests of ordinary people, although it could certainly be an arena of struggle over its direction which could bring benefits in itself in terms of strengthening the movement, and could create circumstances for the working-class to recover a measure of confidence. That is the task that the major organisations of the class (Unite, Unison, GMB etc) have democratically set themselves and the chances of them now abandoning it in favour of a new Left Party are zero.” (My emphasis PH)

History is often unkind to political perspectives, but this approach suffered chronic damage within a few weeks of these lines being written. Highly symbolically Ed Miliband chose June 22 – the day of the Peoples’ Assembly – to disabuse everybody of the notion that Labour would restore any of the Tory cuts. In your dreams Leftists! To talk about Ed Miliband having an “uneven and incomplete” break with New Labour is obvious wishful thinking. A few days later when George Osborne revealed his spending plans for 2015 and beyond (cuts and even more cuts) it was no wonder that Ed Balls’ blustering performance in the Commons cut no ice at all – he had fundamentally nothing to say.

But most dramatic of course is the ongoing row between the Unite and the Labour leadership over candidate selection in Falkirk. Clearly Len McCluskey, to who Ford is very close politically, really wanted to use the trade union recruit mechanism to influence the selection of candidates, in a situation let us not forget, where the party leadership before the last election imposed an iron grip and virtually appointed its own chosen right wing candidates from the centre.

In response to this attempt, Ed Miliband demonstrated the ‘unevenness’ and ‘incompleteness’ of his break with Blairism by suspending the union join mechanism, reporting Unite to the police, suspending Karie Murphy, the Unite-backed candidate in Falkirk, and Stephen Deans, the chair of Falkirk CLP, from the party and launching a witch hunt against McCluskey and Unite. The Labour leadership and the dominant right wing will absolutely not allow any significant shift to the left: and they have complete control over the bureaucratic apparatus to impose their will.

Ed Miliband as “the least worst choice available” and the person to lead the labour movement away from New Labour has been the dampest of squibs. Not only has that train left the station but the station itself has been closed down. On a raft of political issues including civil liberties, immigration and foreign policy, Miliband is right slap bang in the middle of New Labourism. From the point of view of representing the working class and promoting progressive advance, Labour is a political corpse.

Ford claims the “major organisations of the class (Unite, Unison, GMB)” have set themselves the task of reclaiming the Labour Party away from New Labourism is questionable on two fronts – a) are they really trying to do that? b) is there any hope of success?

This is not a matter of reading statements by union leaders, but of looking at their real strategies and how they approach the industrial struggle. Unite’s Len McCluskey is serious about trying to push the Labour leadership leftwards, has attempted to use the union’s weight to get left candidates and has given limited support to industrial action; but for Dave Prentis of Unison and Paul Kenny of GMB this is mainly a matter of protest gestures.

Worse, the union tops, other than the teaching unions (partially) and the PCS’s Mark Serwotka wound down the 2011-12 wave of strike actions over pensions and other cuts. In other words the union leaderships have precisely undermined the mass strike movement which is the type of action that will remoralise the labour movement and rebuild it. Their futile strategy works like this: they think the only possibility of any defence of members’ conditions and the welfare state is the re-election of a Labour government pushed to the left. They absolutely do not believe in mass industrial action as the key to defeating austerity, indeed they believe it may harm Labour’s electoral chances. But once the Labour leadership declares ‘no deal’ on reversing cuts and restoring the welfare state the union tops are left empty-handed.

You have to make an historical judgement of what has happened to Labour. It is now 30 years since Neil Kinnock became leader and initiated the witch hunt against the Militant tendency and others on the left. Thirty years of moving right and championing finance capital and American imperialism as well as dumping the welfare state, including 13 years of vicious right wing government. Of course Labour never was a socialist party, but the prospects in any foreseeable future of it regenerating as even a party of mild welfarism must be counted as practically zero.

Category malfunction: Allowable and non-allowable parties

Michael Ford is obsessed with political parties that ought not to exist and whose very presence on the political scene is disruptive – into which category he scathingly condemns most of the European left to the left of social democracy, including parties like Syriza, Die Linke and even the French Left Front.

There is little recognition in what he writes that these parties represent a significant step forward that is able to represent – in a partial, uneven and contradictory way –the interests of the working class and the oppressed against the politics of austerity and destitution that neoliberalism represents. Sectarian rejection of these formations is a political disaster and a sign of mechanical and schematic thinking. Assessing the social and political impact of these broad left parties using a pre-existing template (especially one inherited from the 1930s) fails to see the positive role that a break with neoliberalism in the political domain has on the morale and the combativity of the working class and the oppressed.

This is the weakness of critiques of Left Unity that say, well of course it is struggle that will defeat austerity and neoliberalism, and not the building of political parties. The new left parties, whatever their weaknesses, disrupt the monopoly of mainstream political discourse enjoyed by the neoliberals and the bourgeoisie. Of course the direct class struggle is the key part of it, but those fighting neoliberalism and the system need to be given political voice capable of getting a wide hearing.

As far as Left Unity is concerned, Michael Ford considers that its programme is merely ‘normal’ social democracy. His is disdainful of new critiques of Leninism being put forward by some in Left Unity: real Leninism, to which he himself appears committed, is what was (and is?) on display in the ‘international communist movement’. For Michael Ford Leninism is, really speaking…Stalinism.

So for Ford the allowable parties are the significant parties supported by the working class and the properly ‘Leninist’: which in Britain conveniently fits into the Labour Party and the CPB/Morning Star. In assessing the possibilities of Labour eventually being returned from the undead to a vehicle of social progress he adds the significant codicil that it’s unlikely “on its own”. This of course harks back to The British Road to Socialism, the programme of the Communist Party since the early 1950s, which posited the transition to socialism starting with a parliamentary victory of a left Labour government supported by Communist MPs.

Given Ford’s major strategic idea, the left reconquest of the Labour Party in alliance with sections of the trade union leaderships, other parties are unnecessary, inconvenient and maybe even sabotage the kind of unity that is needed. They must also be decried with as much tendentious rubbish as possible. Which is where the accusation of social democracy comes in.

According to Ford “the political ‘centre of gravity’ of the new left party will be – opposition to austerity, support for welfare ; opposition to racism, support for equality; democratic, pluralist, green etc”. In fact the founding programme of Left Unity is likely to go well beyond this. In any case this list of ambitions in modern conditions could never possibly be achieved without significant inroads into the power and wealth of capital.

There is absolutely no chance of the Left Party being anything other than a socialist, anti-capitalist party. But there is also no chance of a Left Party being successfully established without it being a pluralist arena where different conceptions of socialism can exist. The role of central planning, co-operatives, private companies and the market are all likely to be hotly contested. The party will have to be broad enough to encompass the many thousands of people hostile to neoliberal capitalism, who want alternatives based on equality and social justice, but who are not yet ready to give their affiliation to a particular brand of socialism, or even call their radicalism ‘socialist’ at all. This is particularly applicable to young people whose political formation has taken place in an epoch where socialism appeared off the political map.

Most of all, quite unlike social democratic parties a new left party based on modern socialism has to be open to the aspirations and movements of the specially oppressed, in particular to feminism.

The conditions of foundation

In the middle of a lot of debate, one of the gratifying things about Left Unity is that people are just getting out there and setting it up, involving a lot of diversity and different political backgrounds, but also people who have never been involved in a party-type organisation before and are new to politics.

By basing itself on the anti-austerity activists, rank and file trade unionists, campaigners for women’s rights and the disabled, as well as radicalised youth and students, Left Unity is ‘ignoring or bypassing’ the leaden schemas of the past on how a new left party could emerge. In the past some of us thought a new left party would require a split in the Labour Party; or dramatic advances in the class struggle in which the working class and its allies scored massive gains; or the emergence of a militant trade union leadership prepared to give direction to the formation of a new party.

Any of those scenarios would of course be a tremendous advance of what we have now. But the conditions which demand we fight for a new party cannot be of our own choosing and design. We are compelled to fight for a new party from the bottom up. It takes some leap of the imagination to believe that this is a less realistic option that fighting to ‘reclaim’ Labour.

  • Phil Hearse is an activist in the NUT, a member of Waltham Forest Left Unity and a supporter of Socialist Resistance.







29 responses to “MISSION IMPOSSIBLE?- Fight to reconquer Labour or build a broad left party?”

  1. Sam Swash says:

    Superb piece.

    I particularly agree with the point about young people whose political consciousness has been formed “in an epoch where socialism appeared off the map.” As a young person myself, I find many of my friends (who aren’t politically active) hold similarly socialist views to myself. However, they know little of what socialism is, or means itself.

    Another point I’d like to add is that I believe Left Unity needs to continue stressing its plurality to all. I think its important that we, as a movement, move away from stressing the failings of current far-left organisations in Britain, whether they be RESPECT, the Socialist Labour Party, TUSC etc, because having these organisations, or members/supporters of them, supporting Left Unity will be integral to its success.

    • Dave K says:

      Very clear article that fairly outlines Michael Ford’s framework and then takes it up in concrete, understandable terms.

      The ludicrous position of the reclaim labour or push labour to the left crowd is exemplified by McCluskey’s latest response to Miliband’s new ‘mending of the trade union link’ where he basically welcomes it and continues to completely exaggerate the actual distance between the Blairites and the Miliband leadership. Talk about clutching at straws or a masochistic politics. I mean this guy is reporting your people to the police and the worst they have alleged to have done had been common practice among the right wing and the apparatus for years.

  2. John Penney says:

    All good stuff, Phil !

    Just as an aside to your completely correct critique of the current attempt by sections of the Left to leap on the Right’s anti EU bandwagon – which as you say will simply build the credibility of the petty nationalists at this juncture (much like trying in current circumstances trying to “take a pro working class” line on immigration controls). However , in some ways , ” no matter what changes, everything remains the same” on some parts of the left. I well remember in the Common Market Referendum in the early 70’s all us Trots took a “No to the capitalist Common Market rich man’s club” position – in opposition to Ted Heath’s Tory enthusiastic support for Common Market membership . (That’s certainly a fundamental political difference to today’s “EU debate ” !). The IMG had a REALLY good “shoot yourself in the foot” slogan in their party paper for the campaign – ie, “Common Market – NO, Comecon – YES !” They did , really !

    • Baton Rouge says:

      The correct line on the EU, as opposed to the chauvinist and stalinist one of NO2EU, is to pledge to re-negotiate its founding treaties in accordance with socialist principles and in the meantime not to enact any of its anti-working class, neo-liberal edicts that are hurting workers and tearing the EU apart as it slides towards begger thy neighbour policies. Of course in the event of an in-out referendum no socialist can possibly vote positively for the neo-liberal principles of the EU as currently founded especially after Cameron and the French and Germans actually do get rid of Human Rights and the working time directive. It would be the end of us as socialists if we took that unprincipled approach.

      • Alan Story says:

        Baton Rouge:

        I can appreciate why NO2EU is chauvinistic. Could you explain why it is ‘stalinist’ ? And what is the political relevance in the current circumstances of calling it ‘stalinist’?

    • Patrick D. says:

      Actually, I think the term ludicrous is a little strong.

      For many years the forerunners of the Socialist Party – the militant tendency attempted an entryism approach with the labour party. And this met with some success in its time. However this approach is probably flawed at this stage for the reasons you give.

      Some have proposed a deep entryist approach, and perhaps that is what Michael’s very well written critique was ultimately alluding to. However that misses an ultimate truth:

      Someone needs to lead the field with new ideas. Hiding deep inside the labour party does not allow that opportunity. As such, the key task of LU is not necessarily to become an immediate electoral force, but to start generating strong new ideas for how to implement socialism. This is unfortunately not being provided by the current crop of radical left groups.

  3. John Wiley says:

    I agree that trying to move the Labour Party to left has no chance at all, when Kinnock got the Labour Leadership, from votes from the left, he then basically kicked the left out, that started the “New Labour” that we have now. As far as I can see, the Labour Party is NOT going to change, in fact it gets more to right everyday.

    Why can’t Unity Left join up with the NHS Party, which, at the moment has no published policies regarding the Unemployed, Disabled, Welfare or Equality. Surely the two parties can make policies, than can be agreed together. The NHS Party, sre mainly there for giving back our NHS, which has all of us hoping that this can be done in the near future.


  4. Mick Woods says:

    Is this the John Penney I knew n Manchester 1979-80?

    • John Penney says:

      It is Mick. How you doing mate ? Gawd , I think the last time I saw you was at a long freezing cold early morning picket outside the Stockport Messenger picket line in Warrington (just before the riot police ran amok !), circa 1985 ish ?

  5. John Williams says:

    A weak response to some clear arguments highlighting barriers to any LU project.
    To take just the first point – the space on the left for an electoral alternative. LU is not the same as those one man band outfits of Galloway and Scargill – which have scored greater electoral impact for the Brit. Far lest since the postwar CP. The left electorate of Bradford (multi ethnic remember) isconcerned by the absence of democratic structures in Respect….it’s the obsessions around internal life of left groups and lack of engagement with working class concers that will leave LU as a die links, only minus the votes and social base.
    I’ve not seen an online advocate for LU ask why small pockets of far left success have occurred – in modern times.thats (
    greens, respect, Wicca, slp? At some point they all moved to being more than a propaganda group.

    Talking of left unity – it is happening practically today! As Phil’s article says – Sp and cpb on eu (a vital democratic issue that should be conceded to racists apparently); counter fire and cpb on PA; Swp and imd. Anti racists via UAF.

    Calls for unity in the abstract will need, soon, to be supported be concrete political proposals. Hopefully skeptics of the LU project loke me can be proved wrong!

  6. Jonno says:

    Can we have some more articles from people who are not members of any of the micro-sects, they also tend to be less proscriptive about what L/U can be, I am really not getting any sense that the diverse voices of the wider putative membership of LU are being heard. There are some fresh ideas and new thinking being posted in the comments, especially young L/u’ers I would like to hear them expand their views, etc.

    • tony walker says:

      Agree with Jonno re articles from people who are not members of micro-sects. i have not been in one though i was in THe Green PARTy and cnd. it is very difficult for me to argue against these people without appearing negative because i dont have a traditional left wing or socialist background mine is more green or anti authoritarian or peace movement / nvda. my experience was in campaigning for homeless people and better rights for the mentally ill and also unilateral nuclear disarmament rather than the labour movement. i have very little experience of trade unions because except when i worked in a bank i was not in a possible to join for long enough to make it worthwhile. i find myself thinking when i read some of the articles that i am back in the 1970s when i was a student at Lanchester Polytechnic – social science. So my understanding of many of these arguments are from an academic perspective. My affinity trade unions i get from my father and my politics was formed by the Vietnamese War, my understanding of economic systems and being unemployed in coventry and exposed to the same kind of politics we see expressed by people in the SP, swp etc today. A proper analysis of how technology and globalisation as changed society is necessary. THe power of trade unions is weaker and the role of manufacturing industry is scarcely noticeable locally etc. Probably my most defining moment politically was being involved in mass actions devoted to nuclear disarmament or opposition to civil nuclear power plus all the alternative movements losely connected with that. TO some on the left anything short of revolution is reformist and therefore not worth trying and in my experience can be scathing about anything not directly connected with the class struggle. THis maybe down to a lack of success of the left in recent decades. I can remember reading Marxism Today which was sold in WH SMiths a good way to pick up contemporary perspectives in the 1980s.it was influential but unpopular with the unreconstructed.

      • Jonno says:

        I’m not sure you know Tony, but Marxism Today moved sharply to the right around the time you mention, it was indeed influential but in a very baleful way and helped prepare the ideological ground for new labour, etc, some of the posters on here had involvement in it. Lots of people not just the ‘unreconstructed’ see it as a very negative thing.

      • Miguel says:

        It think the point about Marxism Today is an important one as it is potentially central as an experience to the communication and cultural strategies of Left Unity. On the one hand our colleague is right in that finally it formed the intellectual basis for parts of the Blairite post-left project and with ‘new times’ assumed the knowledge economy and the service based capitalism would require a new social democratic liberalism. Yes that was a problem – but for a short while -late 70s to mid 80s – there was a buzz about the journal/magazine which brought out a arrange of discussions such as that of Stuart Hall’s. What Left Unity need is to start creating accessible, engaging social and printed media which has the ability to recreate that energy but does so without the right wing and post-modern trends. A new party will need to have the spaces and activities that are to the left, radical and anti-establishment (and critical of the ‘Guardian-Pravda’ link with the Labour Party). Whatever one thinks it was a magazine that could have been much more significant had it not linked into the new labour right but kept a left non-Stalinist path linked to new political spaces and discussions around genuine radical democracy and socialist imagination, as well as a close preoccupation with class.

    • Anyone can write an article, send one in, practically everything is put up. Also I’m not a member of any of the micro-sects and I tend to write fairly frequently for the site.

  7. SimonD says:

    while Phil Hearse may have given up any hope of working class organisations challenging the Labour Party leadership, his pessimism her is balanced by a massive over-optimism of what left of labour initiatives represent. Party after party fail to keep their deposits in elections or win support from any significant section of the working class, but this is completely ignored. The fact that the Socialist Party have been able to hoodwink the RMT leadership into funding recruitment to their sect hasn’t led to any breakthrough any more than it’s disastrous predecessors in the SLP, SA etc. There is as yet no evidence that L’unity is anything more than history repeating itself for the umpteenth time. What is always missed out in such wide eyed perspectives for left electoral challenges is any attempt to properly analyse the class struggle, or indeed to explain why parties of the left would be successful despite the absence of significant industrial struggles. Socialists just assume that because they feel subjectively angry, then they can transplant this onto the whole of the population

  8. Clara says:

    Something has to be done and the call for LU policies is good. Joining with the NHS party sounds a good plan. Joining with all left leaning groups as a broad representation of the left sounds good, possibly the only way any kind of alternative voice in politics is likely to be heard, likely to build an effective alternative to the current lack of choice at the polling booth. … I joined the SP last year after being a LP member because I was sick of labour being a tory party. I did this without really knowing of the ins and outs of the intellectual tribal warfare going on amongst the socialist left. Im a person who grew up really believing in the principle, from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs – its such a clear cut approach. It’s been disappointing that some of the meetings I go to, interesting though they are, focus on historical nitpicking points and as far as I can see that approach just pushes new people away. Faced with the current struggles in everyday life, who really cares about the ins and outs of Rosa Luxembourg and Trotsky when people need food banks, can’t get a dentist, are facing redundancy, are sick of seeing all the good things like the NHS being dismantled? I want a party I can vote for in elections that has some kind of chance of effectively challenging inequality and capitalism. I want a party that recognises women as equals and capable – that represents disabled people, learning disabled people, older people, younger people, from all ethnicities and sexual identities effectively. Is that too much to ask? People I know are more likely to get involved if there is action to take that changes the current situation rather than be lectured about the pros and cons of past battles that frankly feel like they happened in a different epoch. I know history is important and has its place but not when it’s overpowering and disconnects people from everyday issues and action. I really think if there is a chance of bringing new and younger people in, there needs to be some recognition that we don’t all share the same past interests, but that there is a real vision ( including decent policies) we can work together towards an alternative and better future, whichever part of the socialist left we are on.

  9. Jonno says:

    Great post Clara,we really do need an end to this historical fetish’s of the last century and that includes anarchists with 1936, etc, these are different times.

  10. Baton Rouge says:

    The idea that it’s conquer labour or a new broad party is a false dichotomy resulting from formal petit bourgeois thinking.

    Leaving aside the notion of a `broad’ party which is actually code for an opportunist rather than a principled party, the actual task is not to conquer labour or build a new party but both and neither. It is to win the vanguard behind a programme for socialist transition and having won the vanguard the entire class. Organisational fetishism juxtaposed to politics is a mark of Stalinism. In the course of fighting for this manifesto for socialism the Left Unity will be forging here a new party and there reconquering parts of labour depending on the constituency. There is no need to choose between sectarianism towards the mass of labour voting workers or grotesque opportunism in relation to the bureaucrats, reformists, careerist and self-servers. Even if LU stood in certain constituencies in others it would be voting in solidarity with labour voters for the labour candidate against the Tories whilst all the time pressing its manifesto to the fore. Without this programme/manifesto and this attitude towards the wider class LU will rapidly go the way of the other failed sects and frankly good riddance to it.

  11. Eleanor Firman says:

    Great piece, Phil. It’s time the left got a handle on pluralism. Too much ‘us vs them’ in micro-sects to truly merge left forces towards common goals, but that said, I’m happy to support locally-based campaigns whoever runs them.

  12. FatOldSon says:

    Hey Phil,

    Good work, well thought through. . . except the bit about Scotland. What on earth gives you the idea that “the new left party should not try to build in opposition to the existing Scottish Socialist Party and that comrades in Scotland who sympathise with Left Unity should join the SSP.” Are you serious? Why on earth would we join a party that shows all the signs of splitting into two? They have gone tumbling from the Tommy Sheridan ‘high’ of 7 MSP’s (admittedly in a former guise), through the nightmare News of The World revelations, to a complete whitewash at the last elections. The people of Scotland are no more interested in parties with names like “the Marxist/Leninist Revolutionary Socialist Collective” or whatever, than are people in England & Wales. We have the chance here to form a party with a credible name, a credible set of policies, with credible politicians. I would be more than happy to welcome SSP members to join us, but I urge you to rethink your advice about Scottish politics.

    Joe Barr.

  13. Jimmy Haddow says:

    With all due honesty Joe Barr’s contribution to this debate is incredibly one-sided and has an intellectual and political consciousness that is lies dormant on the ground never ever able to soar to the heights above the trees.

    Nobody is suggesting that a left of centre political party should be called “the Marxist/Leninist Revolutionary Socialist Collective” whether in Scotland or in any other area in Britain. But a political party that is for a different society should indicate what it means. I am going to tell you that I am out every week carrying out political activity through stalls, and so on, for the Socialist Party Scotland against the effects of the capitalist austerity programme and I have no hostility from working class people about the name socialist. Quite frankly, and I can be corrected if I am wrong, but I do not believe that Joe Barr communicates with the aspirations of the working class through the “culture of activism”, except maybe turn up at the odd big demo, and has really got no idea how working class people feel about socialism. Joe Barr relies on his own perceived conceptions, and imposes them on the Scottish working class, which quite frankly are as outdated as capitalism itself, by not wanting to put forward the concept of Socialism either in a political form or in an organisation form.

    On the question of the Scottish Socialist Party, SSP: quite frankly Phil Hearse is incorrect to suggest that working class people should join the SSP basically it is politically dying organisation in Scotland. Its involvement in the all-party capitalist YES Scotland campaign and covering the idea of socialism in the blue Saltire is the death nail of that party. However, unlike the SSP, and the majority of the Left in Scotland, Socialist Party Scotland is not prepared to dip our socialist banner. Today, and for many years more to come, savage austerity, the picking apart of the gains made by workers in the past is all this system has to offer. The only alternative for the working class, young people and the poor in Scotland, and through-out Britain, is to build a mass movement against austerity in the form of a 24-hour general strike as a first step. And for a complete break with capitalism in the form of decisive socialist measures. A step toward this is the building of a trade union, and socialist, based new workers party that will articulate the aspirations of the working class of Scotland.

    Here is a credible set of policies that this new workers party could develop as a means to win the working class of Scotland top a new socialist society: Nationalise under democratic workers control the oil and gas industry and the renewable energy sector. This would release billions to invest in a massive programme of job creation and apprenticeships, to rebuild our public services and invest in a major housing programme; Bring the banks and finance sector into public ownership under democratic working class control ; Renationalise gas, electricity, transport and the privatised sectors of the economy; Tax the rich and big business. No to cuts in corporation tax. Increase the minimum wage and end the attacks on welfare; No to Nato., Trident and all weapons of mass destruction out of Scotland; Invest in socially useful jobs and abolish all anti-union laws; Reverse the cuts. For a Scottish government representing working people, the unemployed and the poor that defends jobs, wages, public services and pensions and refuses to make cuts to pay for the crisis.
    And finally,for a socialist plan of production in an independent socialist Scotland as part of a voluntary confederation with England, Wales and Ireland as a step to a socialist Europe.

    • Clara says:

      Jimmys ideas for Scotland sound right and fair to me. The wider problem is that words such as nationalisation and workers control and even unions tend to bring out the worst of prejudice in the general populace

      I teach and see a lot of younger adults, particularly young women. I am constantly amazed at how words like feminism, socialism, trade unions, nationalisation, are construed as some kind of affliction and yet when discussing ethical approaches and bringing in concepts of equality, tolerance, fairness, common good, etc young people are completely open to such ideals and wish for a better society. Somehow the labels have become the problem rather than the actual concepts. Thanks to the legacy of thatcher, decimation of industries, worship of finance, we are living in a highly individualised and competitive society and I think this is why the rhetoric about history and ins and outs of the past is a waste of time in the current climate. Most students I see have not heard of Thatcher and are highly unlikely (until required) to be reading newspapers.

      I think we need to focus on uncovering and building commonalities to build a more collective mindset. Socialism/ leftism is something that also lives within and if individuals can practice it in their own lives in their own communities regardless of everything surrounding them then at least it’s a step in the right direction. With all the bickering about what LU should look like ( and lets be honest, EVERYONE will have to compromise as it is a BROAD alliance) I really do think we need to put the prospect of the collective before our own individual party preferences. Why not have a representation from all left factions, on a workers collective type model, as well as non aligned individuals ( from all the minority groupings) sitting as the sounding board of LU – as long as they all sign up to putting the LU collective first? The localised aspect of LU is also a really great vehicle, it makes it much more meaningful in people’s lives.

  14. Jimmy Haddow says:

    Leader of the RMT, Bob Crow, calling for a new workers party!

    (“)Dave Nellist: The Coventry MP who gave away half his pay.(“)
    The ex-Labour (Militant Tendency) Member of Parliament for Coventry South East from 1983 until his expulsion in 1991 who stood on a workers wage for a workers MP.

    BBC interview:

  15. Sophie Katz says:

    I agree with PH’s view about Michael Ford’s piece, I also agree with PH’s defense of the new (and not so new) left parties in Europe – by and large. But I think PH makes a mistake about anti-capitalist parties in Britain. He is at some pains to let us know that the SLP and Respect at al are/ were not real attempts to occupy the space left by the rightward shift of Labour. Left Unity will have more success because it is such an attempt to move into the now vacant space.

    Im afraid that’s much the same as saying we have not had a successful broad left anti-capitalist party so far … because we haven’t!

    PH provides a thumbnail sketch of all the faults of the left proto parties since the mid 1990s.. His answer? Left Unity will not have their faults! Therefore it will do better! We will be a much more exact replica of the European model. That will be LUs unique contribution. I’m afraid all this is what might be described as marxists without their marxism.

    In most of Europe the success of the left parties is deeply related to the collapse of the communist party tradition – not the rightward move of social democracy. In Britain there has been no anti-capitalist trend inside the working class movement since the Benn/Scargill current. Indeed the British working class itself has been fractured and fragmented more than its west European counterparts. The mass social democratic ‘answer’ is now virtually stone dead as far as both of the two main classes in British society are concerned. There is therefore no ‘space’ for an anti capitalist party to be sucked up into. We have here, in the latest proposal for a broad left party, a political formula that is simultaneously past its sell by date and unconnected to any of the real questions that Britain’s new working class faces.

    Let’s test it by all means. Let’s continue to argue it out. But I think we will find that the sooner we look at what the strategic needs of the emerging working class are now, and here, we will discover the objective role for our politics and the type of organisational expression that requires.

    • John Penney says:

      I think this is the very first time , Sophie, that you have clearly stated that you think we are “barking up entirely the wrong tree” with our Left Unity Project ! Strange, and I think a bit cheeky, for someone who has taken so much lead article space on our Left Unity project website for your very abstruse arguments recently !

      I can buy into some of your points about the significant changes in the composition of the UK working class (but also the apparent temporary irrelevance of socialist politics, based on the huge illusory bubble of “prosperity” built on debt during the neoliberalist era) over the last 40 years as one of the reasons for the morphing of previously “social democratic” parties like Labour into entirely bourgeois capitalist ones. However it certainly isn’t “the collapse of the communist party tradition” which has explosively built parties like Syriza, from pretty much nothing, over the last few years ! That just provided a relatively tiny early base of ex-communists as members of the new radical parties. For heavens sake Sophie , It’s that rather massively significant phenomenum of the 2008 Global Capitalist Crash and the resulting Austerity Offensive, which has re-energised working class political action, and exposed the illusion of neoliberalist politics. So there most definitely IS now a “political space ” on the radical Left available because of the huge rightward lurch of parties like Labour (Pasok, Spanish and French socialist Parties, etc), which wasn’t present prior to the 2008 Crash .

      I am still no nearer understanding the model of political movement you actually ARE proposing to us , Sophie ! I think you should tell us, clearly. Otherwise your repeated ,very cryptic, rejections of the Left Unity project, based on very vague statements about “fundamental class restructuring” in the UK, is just empty negative rhetoric.

  16. Jonno says:

    Looked everywhere at the Durham Miners Gala for LU and its broadsheet, couldn’t find it, thought Bobs speech was abit of a rant though and much too loud, thousands listening to the speeches but many others just there for the sun, etc

  17. Sophie Katz says:

    JP chides me for missing out the role of the fight with austerity in the prospects for new left parties. Leaving the generalities to one side, I’m in favour of LU’s efforts to regroup what remains of the non sectarian left in England. It is a waste to let that tradition dissolve and it could have the effect of politically energising a growing anti-austerity movement. And because we do not know if this will happen does not mean that we should be neutral about it in practice. Such questions are decided in life rather than by abstract thought.

    I tried to sketch out in a previous piece how I thought the left might approach the necessary political regroupment of the working class. Not, I think, to the taste of other contributors! Perhaps my mistake was not to spell out precise organisational formulae, but I believe that while Brit socialists are good at organisational proposals – they, we, need to think more about the changes to our world, try to establish some solid and strategic ideas, and then make our party political proposals flow.

    I realise history is not so neat. Often processes do not follow their logical order! It does not mean that the questions go away. I hope LU will play a part in trying to answer them – in practice as well as in theory.

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