Where is the radical left in Britain heading – and where should it go?

Sophie Katz looks at past attempts in setting up left of Labour alternatives and considers what the left in Britain should do today.

The Spirit of '45

The Spirit of ’45

The first time that the issue of replacing the LP with another mass party came up as a strategy (actually the first time the main thesis of the British Road to Socialism was ever confronted by the radical left) was in the second half of the 1980s as part of an obscure debate inside a declining organisation which had itself been a faction of the effectively dissolving International Marxist Group. It was the central idea of a document called ‘Our Strategy.’ At that stage ‘Our Strategy’ did not conquer even the attenuated majority available at the conference. It did however create a commanding idea and, ten years later, patient organisation in support of the strategy laid the basis for the formation of Britain’s first attempt to create a new mass party of the working class since the 1920s.Scargill announced to a small meeting in a North London Hotel that he was going to found the Socialist Labour Party.

Since that event there have been many versions of new parties and many versions of what went wrong with them. The latest review is to be found in an article by Will McMahon on the Left Unity site, which calls on Left Unity to set up a common electoral front with, among others, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (the Socialist Party plus its friends in the RMT.) Will has a standard list of the weaknesses of all the previous attempts. Respect was too SWP then too Galloway. The SLP was too Scargill, etc. He goes on to paint a picture of all the ‘fragments’ of the left and to suggest that if they all got together then they would be bigger than the sum of their parts. And not having a charismatic leader should help.

Unfortunately the Marxists have once again refused (forgotten?) to apply their own Marxism to a study of their own landscape. So before moving on it is necessary to clear the debris that has accumulated around the discussion of previous radical left parties. The British left has a deep faith in the vacuum theory of history. You can see it in the astoundingly tenacious idea that if the social democratic/bureaucratic leaderships were just prevented from their regular betrayal, then revolutionary action could burst forth from the base. It has been applied, with a vengeance, to Social Democracy and the British Labour Party. Social Democracy has moved to the right (we will come back to this) and the space it has left behind – the vacuum – will draw the radical left into the old Social Democrat’s position. The connection between the SD leaders and the workers has been severed by history (or via the denunciations of this or that left group) and a reconnection to the workers’ ‘true’ representatives is now open. From those sort of assumptions we get to more modern schemas about the emergence, in the rest of Western Europe, of new left parties who represent this process already. And if they can do it, why can’t we?

How should we look at these ideas? In the first place we see through the eyes of the working class as we study of the whole of class society. ‘No interests separate and apart’ etc. Western capitalism has transformed the western working class utterly in the last quarter century. There is no space here to examine this in detail, but suffice it to say that the working class in the west has been socially decomposed – first through a huge domestic class offensive and then through the consequences of the weakening of the traditional western imperialist powers and their re-concentration of capital through semi –detached centres of finance capital. This was both caused by class war and simultaneously became itself the basis for the destruction of western social democracy (as a political force which historically balanced itself between its mass working class support on the one hand and on the other – through its bureaucracy and leadership – provided political support to native ruling classes).

The social and economic basis for Social Democracy’s role – a mass organised working class movement and a world dominated by the power of western imperialism – has dissolved on both fronts. It is in the recognition of the totality of the political, economic and social process that wisdom lays. It is true that Scargill ruined any chance that the SLP might have had. For a start he blew up his own constitution at the founding conference. But the SLP’s creation was firmly premised on the understanding that there continued to be – even by the early 1990s – a well embedded political current inside the working class movement – the Benn / Scargill current. The paradox was that Scargill was able to ruin his own party precisely because that current had actually ceased to exist by 1995 and could therefore play no role in countering Scargill’s shenanigans.

Respect based itself on the huge anti-war mobilisation but discovered that huge mobilisations do not necessarily gel into broader political currents in society, or inside the remains of the workers’ movement, despite Salma Yaqoob and George Galloway. Consequently it fractured and then became prey for the latest sectarian turn of the SWP. It too scattered to pieces. Then we come to ‘once as tragedy…’ with the Socialist Party’s campaign for a new mass workers party (which in due course they would presumably enter.) It has not gone beyond its own megaphones. Undoubtedly rooted in the heads of SP organisers and a few friends of the SP inside the RMT, it exists nowhere else in British society. (It would be an injustice here to bring in a quick summary of Scottish developments and although the Scottish Socialist Party has failed, it has been a much richer experience and deserves very serious attention in its own right.)

The latest effort to set up a new party is the current call for a Left Unity party. Left Unity is a serious attempt to echo the western European experience where successful radical left formations have emerged, or re-emerged in the case of Izquierda Unida, as a result of the battle against austerity. Syrizia is the beacon for Left Unity as it rightly studied by the left for its remarkable and vital progress. It is also not an accident that Left Unity has made a significant part of its appeal the defence of what was the time of British social democracy’s greatest triumph – the spirit of ‘45. The message is simple and coherent; we must combine the appeal of the greatest days of the now unreformable British Labour Party with the new political advances of the radical left in Europe.

But neither of these albeit potent experiences have any significant base in most of Britain and neither can capture the actual experience of the actually existing working class – let alone navigate through new international social and political totality as it is expressed. Leaving aside for a moment the romance of the ‘45ers, radical left parties in western Europe are not at all a product of a shift to the right by traditional social democracy, rather new lefts have been regrouped – at least in large part – by the previous communist party tradition, which is now in ruins.

The western European context includes direct experience of Nazi rule and the tremendous sacrifice and victories of the old USSR, a divided Germany, Paris ’68, Milan ’69 Portugal and Spain ’74 – 76, the colonels’ coup in Greece etc. The communist tradition ran deep and the workers’ movements were less defeated; both crucial differences with the British experience. A far left, based at least in part on those experiences and on the opportunities afforded by the decay of the mass communist parties, have been able to crystallise a genuine working class based current which has allowed it to play a greater role than has been available to equivalent forces in the UK.

So where is the left today in the UK and what should it do? A new strategic insight is required, a new political construct. The working class in the UK has been socially decomposed and, in reaction, is politically recomposing. In Northern Ireland, where social decomposition is least developed in the current generation, the nationalist working class remains, in the main, grouped around Sinn Fein. In Scotland an historic battle of negation wages between the Scottish LP and the SNP as to who is the real opposite to Southern England’s (although not London’s) Tory majority. In England UKIP provides a growing political identity for numbers of white working class people. Additionally, the more active wing of the trade union movement are giving a political lead to a definite current of working class opinion partly reflected in the recent Peoples Assembly – although their ability to reach wider layers inside the working class is reduced by the degree to which the (overwhelming majority) of non unionised workers are now persuaded to see unionised labour as the defence of special interests.

A huge number of working class people, perhaps a third, are without any political identity at all even in terms of voting (although broadly critical of the political system.) And general membership of the main UK political parties has been in steep decline over recent decades. Only about one per cent of the electorate is currently a member of one of the main parties, compared with an estimated 3.8% in 1983. The UK has one of the lowest rates of party membership in Europe. At the end of 2011, Labour had 193,300 members. (In the early 1950s, Labour membership reached a peak of 1 million.) The LP vote is dissolving – at the moment into inertia or to the right. So far resistance to austerity has not yet taken on a national face of protest let alone any political expression despite continued polling showing majority opposition to cuts.

Meanwhile the British capitalist system is fragile. The social decomposition and political recomposition of the working class away from the LP is not a sign of the great strength of the system, neither in its coalition politics nor in its city based economics. With its totally unbalanced and internationally over-exposed and vulnerable position, the UK is one of the weakest links in the international capitalist chain. What therefore are the overarching political objectives for our disaggregated working class movement in the next period? The social decomposition and political recomposition of the UK working class is a complex and contradictory process. It is in this context that the strategic goal of the replacement of the LP by a new mass worker’s party is now a rootless and redundant perspective in current conditions.

As an objective, the formation of a new mass party of labour albeit with a radical programme is the attempt to paint a dying phenomenon with the colours of the future. The political recomposition of the working class – the actual process – is ineluctably underway. Unlike Scargill’s and the SP’s vision of a new LP but with a class struggle or a revolutionary leadership, the actually existing working class have moved beyond either the idea of inside/outside reform of Labour or its substantive replacement. And there is little purpose in insisting that we all rerun history until we get it right. The actual LP is dying because the conditions for its existence inside both the capitalist class and the working class are ebbing away.

Today a new type of political regroupment is already emerging shaped by modern conditions and it is that process that the left must grasp. Historically speaking the atomization of the working class is not new. The Chartists brought together handloom weavers working in their cottages with families who worked open cast mines, with small workshop employees and their ‘masters’, indeed all the flotsam and jetsam that were being created by the friction between industrialising towns and the surrounding countryside. The Chartists brought them together around a proposal for political revolution. And that is the strategic necessity today.

Our political system (including its previously social democratic component) no longer promises to secure or even to pretend to serve working class interests. And it is politics and no longer the social and economic glue of great factories, rows of terraces, of mines and steelworks that can recompose the working class. (Of course large units of production will continue to play a disproportionate role at decisive moment in any class struggle – consider London Transport.) The change in union membership already reflects some of these realities. Unions are more white collar and public sector, female and BME.

The key elements of political regroupment required today are summarized in two objectives that are already taking shape and that the left needs to make central to their concerns. At the general political level it is answering the question of who can represent anti-austerity. This is the question of who will be the political defence of what is or what has been, of what was won by previous generations of the working class. Everyone has had a lesson in the power of globalization and the banks. Everyone understands that the social and economic conditions can only be secured politically.

The second objective is equally decisive. It is the question of whom or what can politically represent the need for a new system of society – starting with a new political system. Austerity in the west shows that the great historic gains (albeit made under a social democratic banner) are not safe (least of all with the social democrats!) The defence of what is, is tied, inexorably, to the creation of something new. Both of these working class political objectives ache for resolution as the billionaires scatter our lives and as our existing political system is creaking and groaning in its terminal illness and the decay of its corruption.

Organisational objectives must serve political strategy. The Peoples Assembly and others are committed to build a mass, national movement against austerity. This kaleidoscopic movement’s policy requires its own political representation. Not representation from somebody from outside who just states they oppose this or that part of austerity; but from people from inside the actual movement, and who are part of its debates and its collective actions. It does not matter if they want to stand for the Labour Party or under another banner. Some of the most convincing supporters of the anti-austerity movement claim to also support Labour. But all the anti-austerity movement’s representatives must support its adopted principles. Otherwise they are not representing the movement but something else.

Anti-austerity must be a real choice not a partial, or ‘depending on’ option for working class people in the coming election. As we collapse towards the coming general election this argument will be unavoidable. Our goal in the next election is to promote all candidates who sign up to anti-austerity. We will want them to have as their first priority getting rid of austerity policies and to form a bloc in Parliament with that purpose. That is the working class interest in the next election.

It is as significant a moment in the recreation of the working class ‘for itself’ as the original working men who first stood for parliament because their class was not represented in politics, both before and during the creation of the Labour Representation Committee at the end of the 19th century. Is this, in practice, the left’s version of UKIP? UKIP’s stated aim is to regroup the existing right currently supporting the Tories. They present two means of achieving that regroupment. First they are establishing their own base across disaffected middle class and working class white Britons with the EU standing in for the inimical influence in the UK of all ‘foreigners’. And second they are feeling their way towards a bloc to support elements in the City who wish to safeguard their privileged position in world finance against new European rules.

This is all very dangerous but the left would be mistaken to attempt a regroupment with or to have the main strategy of putting pressure on elements of the Labour Party. A big vote for anti-austerity candidates would certainly worry the Labour leadership. But it is not its fundamental purpose – any more that it is the main purpose of a national anti-austerity mass movement.

Our goal is to make a new thing; to create a new platform in society so that a new class may stand on its own solid ground. It will start small. Everything starts small. It will not form a government. That does not matter. It has not mattered for some decades. What does matter is that we form the beginning of real representation. In the first instance in defence of what has been won and what is. Simultaneously the left needs to take steps to answer the second question. If the first question is how to defend, through politics, what has been and what is. It must now also attend to the creation what will be.

The mass social democratic phase of working class politics is over in this country and it will not return even in a revolutionary guise. (It is the basic reason why the trade unions that are still central to the fight must disentangle themselves from the Labour Party and face their own political independence.) LP mass politics does not relate to the new totality, to actual working class conditions or, most importantly from the point of view of the second question, to the crisis of our civilization. It is now time to reconstruct the goal of a new type of society.

The terrible ideological hangover produced by the collapse of the USSR has melted away in the minds of the people of the globe, if not from its effects in history. Thousands of young people, even in Britain, already think our world is a terrible place. They experience foreign wars as wars against them. They denounce the corruption and hypocrisy they see around them. As national populations displace from their national origins; as the first world intermingles socially with what was the third world then global conditions more and more effect the political outlooks of the immigrant family, the young people and especially the indigenous populations.

The moral, economic and pre-eminently political question arises today, now, in the Mosques, among students, among the new poor. Why is our world like this? Why is our society so unfair? How can we survive? At some phase in the future this questioning of our society will combine with the movement to improve or even hold onto the day-to-day necessities of life. For now they show a different aspect, a different face of the struggle and yet organising for both aspects, for both faces, answers the question of how the working class movement can be successfully politically recomposed.

It is the political recomposition of the working class that will supersede and overcome its social decomposition. And for those that are worried that the foregoing might have over-balanced optimism of the will with too much pessimism of the intellect, the bleakness of the current landscape only serves to make the view clearer!


37 responses to “Where is the radical left in Britain heading – and where should it go?”

  1. John Penney says:

    This long article seems to me to take a long time to say very little, and then repeats it – but still remains opaque !

    If I’ve understood it correctly though Sophie is recognising that the era of Labour Party-type “social democratic” politics is historically over, and the fight against Austerity and capitalism will have to be carried on by new radical political and social campaigning formations. I think Sophie is therefore generally in favour of the Left Unity project to build a new political Party, but I have to admit that I’m not sure even about that critical point – even after rereading the article three times ! .

    One things for certain, trying to establish “anti-Austerity blocs” around individual MPs expressing general “opposition to Austerity” around the next 2015 General election , will achieve little but give a bit of “radical gloss” to a few of the “usual suspects” in Westminster – from Caroline Lucas, to the odd Labour Leftie, to George Galloway. In reality any serious political regroupment now is too late to have any impact on the 2015 General Election. Any significant national political restructuring on the radical Left – hopefully around Left Unity, will happen during what will undoubtedly be a deeply depressingly right wing new Labour government after 2015. To build a serious electoral and socially much wider campaigning radical Party and movement of mass opposition to Austerity will require the focus and discipline of a proper, membership-based, political party. “Electoral blocs” just won’t do it – or loose , unstructured, roaming anti Austerity “roadshow” initiatives to promote a few “leftie stars” ,like the Peoples Assemblies.

    Lastly , as an anti-stalinist radical socialist I have to say that unlike Sophie who , in a number of posts, has referred to the supposed:

    “terrible ideological hangover produced by the collapse of the USSR ”

    I would strongly suggest that the huge ,persisting, damage that was done to the cause and reputation of socialism as a political philosophy of human liberation in the eyes of the mass of working class people worldwide, was not the consequence of the COLLAPSE of the Soviet Union – but in the actual historical record/experience of the murderous tyranny of Stalinism in the Soviet Union ( plus China, N. Korea, Eastern Europe) ! The population of the Soviet Union itself was only too happy to see that baleful corrupt system of oppression collapse – not lifting a finger as the Russian mafioso oligarchs, often sourced from the very ranks of the old “communist” elite, stole all the state’s assets to create their new conventional bourgeois capitalist state.

    One of the key thinks a new party of the Radical Left will need to do, is not assume that the crimes of the old Stalinist regimes are now conveniently slipping from popular memory – they haven’t. Instead the radical Left has to robustly denounce the travesty of socialism that the stalinist “state capitalist” tyrannies represented. We must make it clear that the democratic socialist society we see as holding out the promise of a better, fairer, more prosperous future for the majority, will be a fundamentally democratic one with more civil liberties for the majority, not less.

    • Richard B says:

      There exists a fundamental hypocritical tension within the left wing narrative;
      With the political hat on the call is for fair wages, better conditions, full employment and so on.
      With the shopping head on, all this goes out the window. You want best tyres for the price – you do not consider the workers wages or paternity rights.

      THIS is why the masses remain unconvinced. You say one thing but act in a consumerist manner that supports offshoring and ever decreasing shopping around for best value (thus pressure on wages and benefits in the main).

      So next time you shop around for cheapest car insurance are you going to establish which firms have best paternity rights and wages?

      • Andy Nevill says:

        Yes, you’re right and personally I do try to shop around with some regard for the underlying impact of my purchases but there are 2 large problems.

        1) Governments and business work together to hide the reality from consumers. What we should have done 30 years ago is to pass laws to add the cost difference of decent working standards between the place where the ‘stuff’ was being imported from and here.

        2) Money is sanitising, if I were swapping my labour for someone elses directly (or goods or whatever) maybe it would be more important to me how they were treated as that might affect how they cared about my living and working standards.

        When I’m shopping around for car insurance it would take me months of work to find out where it really came from and how that business treated its workers. Just look at the marketing machine the Co-op has to cover up it’s dodgy dealings.

        Fix money http://www.positivemoney.org/ and then “our” government can legislate the rest, until then as an individual it’s impossible to buy responsibly all the time.

  2. Bazza says:

    But the tragedy of some of the ‘left’ is that they fall for the bible according to Lenin/Trotsky and because of restdricted thinking become “bourgeois socialists’ (top down, elite central committees, vanguardist, cadres, a ready made programme, believing the banking concept of political education- and all they need do is deposit their programme into the heads of working people and hey presto – they will lead us to socialism). Hallelujah!
    As a w class socialist social housing tenant who was the first in my family to get a degree, I am on the left of Labour. I read New Left Review, Red Pepper, New Internationalist and even look at New Statesman and in November will have to choose soon if LU is my ONE party. Funny though I feel LU has tremendous potential, as an independent socialist in no group, at times I feel vulnerable and am wary of sectarian groups – are they involved to seek control or to just recruit? It must be a w class thing but I don”t want working people to be used and I believe you will never win working people by being dishonest.
    I have suggested to my LU group that we go out on estates one Sunday a month (or there could be a Saturday group) from 11.00-12.30 – we would talk to working people (although those who weren’t comfortable re this could leaflet) and we would introduce LU, promote equality, promote socialist ideas and anti-discrimination and recruit working people. We could do a council estate one month then a more multi -ethnic area the next month.
    When LU has policies we could then arrange meetings on estates or areas plus for communities of interests on all our policy topic areas ie housing. We could almost treat our ideas as drafts and ask working people what they think of them and for ideas in a discussion. Grassroots socialism from below or should we be a self-actualising debating society of ‘resolutionary socialists’ with an interesting hobby? You decide.
    Yours in solidarity!

    • Richard B says:

      And how would you persuade the worlds consumers to buy more costly British products, made so by those increased wages and better conditions for UK workers?

      You cannot assume we have some divine ability to produce superior products compared to say a Thai firm, so go on, how will you make Chinese consumers pay for all these UK worker cost increases?

      Unless you crack this, the rest of the discussion is irrelevant.

      Secondly how would you persuade ordinary workers to risk their hard earned savings in setting up a new enterprise, if you are imposing all sorts of costs on the enterprise that are designed to fulfil your worker centric narrative thus making it harder to do business and turn a profit (many firms make a loss some years)?

      Without a compelling case for business investment, you will never achieve more jobs, let alone well paid varieties.

      Somehow the lefts narrative lacks this common sense killer instinct component. It’s all pie in the sky nonsense that wont put real bread on tables.

  3. I think I need an aspirin after reading that.
    “Our goal is to make a new thing; to create a new platform in society so that a new class may stand on its own solid ground. It will start small.”
    Now I don’t buy that, I don’t but that al all. Just what is this new class? Its odd but at our last Left Unity meeting when we showed the film “Spirit of 45” someone who I think was an anarchist in outlook even suggested we were dividing society by using the words “working class”!!. Now for me the working people of this country made our past and will make our socialist future and only they have the possible power and strength to do this, so I do not buy the idea that some mythical new class (undefined) its about to spring up and change the world. I am looking right now at a TV programme on the history of the Work House (my wife’s family ended up in one here back in the 19th Century)and no one who watches this programme would suggest the working class did not exist or does not exist now and that those with huge power and wealth (the ruling class) and not afraid of and have always been afraid of because they know working people can change society.
    The struggles of the working people in Turkey/Greece/Egypt/Spain/Brazil currently are the real inspiration for our new movement and Party and these are the struggles of the working people and our class and we should be proud of that and inspired by it!

  4. Well done John Penney and Bazza two excellent contributions and so much better than my own quick one.
    I like John’s ending “We must make it clear that the democratic socialist society we see as holding out the promise of a better, fairer, more prosperous future for the majority, will be a fundamentally democratic one with more civil liberties for the majority, not less.” yes people should be able to see the sort of society we wish to create through our actions in the present so Left Unity must be the most democratic, most open and most non sectarian of all Parties of the Left.

    And Bazza is 100% correct when he states “I have suggested to my LU group that we go out on estates one Sunday a month (or there could be a Saturday group) from 11.00-12.30 – we would talk to working people (although those who weren’t comfortable re this could leaflet) and we would introduce LU, promote equality, promote socialist ideas and anti-discrimination and recruit working people. We could do a council estate one month then a more multi -ethnic area the next month.”.
    Its essential we communicate and listen to working people where they live. In Milton Keynes we intend to do just that and have already had two Left Unity information stalls in two different parts of our city. It would certainly help us if we had some cheap nationally produced material we could sue. I have heard some negative comments on here about the use of stalls and I think those people are wrong, very wrong as we must talk to and test our ideas in public and well as listen to issues of local concern and get people to sign up for more information. Its these small steps in the community and supporting action on local issues that will build up the creditability of Left Unity over time – there I no quick fix but I can assure you that when you get a good reception on an estate or local shopping centre it does boost your own confidence in the future of Left Unity

  5. Baton Rouge says:

    The `radical left’ and Left Unity is no exception exists only in a succession of centrist apolitical sects that implode and reform, implode and reform, implode and reform. Self-serving policyless pressure groups forming the extreme left wing not of the labour movement but the labour bureaucracy. The radical left needs a manifesto (not a disparate collection of half-digested barely reformist policies that do not form a coherent whole) for the transition to working class power and and socialism or it will never be more than a breeding ground for self-promoting careerists building a reputation on their way to the right. It certainly won’t get anywhere offering a thin gruel of nostalgia and opportunism.

    • Richard B says:

      How do you construct the transition to working class power (increased wages / better paternity rights etc), when those very same workers as consumers will make buying decisions at odds with these costly aims?

      Will these folk suddenly start using WHICH magazine in order to pay more for their insurance and printer ink on the basis of a comparison table detailing firms paternity rights and wage levels?

      Of course they won’t just as they didn’t boycott Amazon, Starbucks and Google.

      • Patrick D. says:

        There is a general rule about not feeding trolls, but there are some valid points here that need to be tackled.

        Any society – whether socialist or capitalist can only ultimately increase wealth through economic growth – i.e. increased production. If we leave aside debates on immigration and assume a fixed populace, that means increasing productivity. But how do we best do that?

        In the UK, we have the biggest financial industry in the world, but one of the worst venture capitalist sectors in Europe. Our investment into R&D is only 0.6% of GDP. If we took control of the finance industry and redirected it properly, we could put 3-5% of GDP into R%D, massively increasing productivity, thus allowing for improved working conditions without increasing costs.

        The real issue is how we manage a socialised finance industry? Worker democracy – laudable though it is, will not work as normally prescribed. quite simply – complex business plans and scientific/engineering concepts need to be scrutinized by those with an understanding of the field. If we can crack this issue without bureacratization, then we will look like a credible alternative.

  6. Dave Edwards says:

    This article takes a long time to reach it’s dual punch point – support the People’s Assembly as a ‘new type’ of movement, and reject the formation of a political party of the working class.

    Although the article appears to draw on some key changes in the social composition of Britain and of the structure of contemporary capitalism. I felt that it made reference to some of these ‘things’, but essentially dropped them into the discussion to give weight to the argument. I did not feel they were organically or even logically a justification for the conclusion. Window dressing the argument, would be a term I would use.

    What kept bounching out at me as the argument progressed was a feeling of ‘I read this somewhere before’. It was all those discussion about the ‘popular front’ in the 1930s. It not the same; but it is certainly similar. Particularly that bit about supporting anybody at the next election, as long as they are anti-asterity – creating a broad coalition of different class forces etc.

    A lot missing from the article; and can’t go into it all here. But note the switch between non-election focus re the ’emerging movement’, and support for ‘anybody anti-austerity’, precisely in an election focus. That is, don’t create your own part (with suitable theory to argue this), but support anybody else’s, because now they ‘happen’ to be there. Not very sound at all.

    Now the People’s Assembly (or indeed other such movements), can be a useful movement of anti-austerity, but it is only part of the complex equation. What is missing and declining is the working class identification with a political party that represents their interests. Building up such a new alternative will take time, becuase it is a political, cultural and ideological change. The direction of Left Unity, opens up that possibility.

    • Baton Rouge says:

      The People’s Assembly is for those who not only will be fooled again but who are actively looking to be fooled again. In fact, some of them I’m sure insist upon it.

  7. Micky D says:

    This article reads like an essay by a first year sociology student , opaque , but with just enough jargon and buzz words to scrape a c minus …. Cant anyone on the left write in plain english anymore ?

  8. John Collingwood says:

    Sincere thanks to Sophie for an article that at last faces the problems square on, and yet begins to crystallise a vision of how Left Unity might actually be able to make a positive difference in very difficult circumstances.

    It demonstrates how essential it is to recognise the peculiarly British characteristics of our current malaise, as well as the harsh fact that many cherished hopes based on historical working class struggles, or on social democratic principles, have to be set aside in order for a vital new politics to grow up in this benighted country.

    Yes, we need to run hard to stand still in defending what has already been achieved – ie boost the anti-austerity movement wherever there are any signs of life. As to the future, it is not realistic to expect that a large fraction of the 99 percent will identify with traditional notions of class conflict. If Left Unity is to transform the political landscape it needs to appeal to all those – whatever their background – who are prepared to open their eyes wide and acknowledge that things are now so truly awful that we need to stop what we are doing and find a better way to live and work together, whatever that might be. At the moment we have a serious case of ‘boiling frog syndrome’ to tackle.

    • Baton Rouge says:

      `Yes, we need to run hard to stand still in defending what has already been achieved – ie boost the anti-austerity movement wherever there are any signs of life. As to the future, it is not realistic to expect that a large fraction of the 99 percent will identify with traditional notions of class conflict. If Left Unity is to transform the political landscape it needs to appeal to all those – whatever their background – who are prepared to open their eyes wide and acknowledge that things are now so truly awful that we need to stop what we are doing and find a better way to live and work together, whatever that might be. At the moment we have a serious case of ‘boiling frog syndrome’ to tackle.’

      This is almost chemically pure sectism. Yes we need to support anti-austerity struggles but the PA is trying to substitute for it. It is heading to head off. StWC turned an anti-war movement of 3 million into one of a couple of hundred pro-Assad/Gadaffi/Putin nutters. The same people will do the same for anti-austerity. As for Left Unity you are proposing not that it give political leadership and political clarity but tail-ending and appealing to all which is a recipe for appealing to no-one. Never in the history of political launches has a manifesto been so ostentatiously eschewed in favour of confusionism. If LU does have any sort of manifesto it is that of the 1945 Atlee Government which is neither relevant or desirable. Until LU commissions, debates and votes on a coherent, popular, rounded manifesto for the transition to working class power and socialism then what you are building is another opportunist sect.

      • John Collingwood says:

        Baton Rouge, I’m not quite sure what chemically pure sectism might be – but perhaps it is because I trained as a chemist many years ago… Perhaps I expressed myself particularly badly, or still have much to learn, because to become yet another sect is the last thing I would want to see happen to LU. I too found the degeneration of the anti-war movement profoundly depressing. I agree with you entirely about the need for a properly considered manifesto, relevant to the current state of affairs and not just a cocktail of nostalgia based on 1945 – my support for the idea of backing the anti-austerity movement whatever its banner stems simply from the obvious desire of LU members (certainly in my local group) to get stuck into something straight away, and this seems like a useful activity, whatever may follow. It is not meant to be a central focus: that must be the process of transition to socialism as you point out. Please correct me if you still think this is a mistaken approach. I too would dearly like to know more about how and when the LU manifesto is to be generated, and how it is to be expressed so as to draw in precisely those people who have no time for sect-building.

  9. Sophie Katz says:

    Thanks to all who made a comment and even to Richard B who is trying so hard to disillusion all us hypocrites and socialists! Richard, there is something in your second piece. We do need to establish what the economics of a new civilisation might look like – and how it might work. It’s not that difficult. There are many ideas and contributions about this. What we’ve got cannot be the best humanity can manage. But that’s for another day.

    A couple of points. Left Unity is not at the centre of my piece. It’s not the point of my argument, or its starting place or its conclusion. We’ll see if it turns into the answer of any of the important questions. The future of the radical left does not turn around any particular organisation or campaign; or this or that would-be party. It turns around what the left understands of the overall conditions of the class struggle, sadly, yes, in all their complexity, and whether or not the left is able to take a grip of them in their practice.

    To build anything you have to have the clearest possible understanding of the modern working class, shorn of all historical romance and tub thumping personal commitment. The working class is precisely not the 99%. It is, scientifically speaking, all those who HAVE to sell their labour power. But the vast majority of those that do, today, in Britain do not see themselves as a class – with a separate interest. And this is the core of the matter.

    The left have to have a policy for the recreation of the working class – not in the sense that there are no longer millions who have to sell their labour power – but in the sense that we have to find dominating ideas and simple accessible forms for those ideas, that can politically bring that working class identity together again. I tried to suggest some.

    • Sean Thompson says:

      This summary of your earlier contribution is very useful indeed – particularly the last paragraph.

  10. Jacob Richter says:

    Richard B, given your crude post on wages vs. consumer prices, I suggest you read into business strategy circles about the difference between cost leadership vs. product differentiation.

    More developed countries can go the product differentiation route like Germany has.

    On a coop question:

    “Secondly how would you persuade ordinary workers to risk their hard earned savings in setting up a new enterprise, if you are imposing all sorts of costs on the enterprise that are designed to fulfil your worker centric narrative thus making it harder to do business and turn a profit (many firms make a loss some years)?”

    I think the experience here can be different from the Soviet one, despite going a similar route. In this case, discriminate between coops and regular businesses so that the former aren’t subject to as many regulations, taxes, or fees. This also means that coops wouldn’t be subject to as many environmental or labour safety regulations. Common sense is common sense.

  11. Bazza says:

    It has been 3 months or so since the idea of LU came about exploring the idea of, then setting up a new left wing democratic socialist party. At times it has been hectic, sometimes messy, at times exhilarating and yes at times even boring (mundane but necessary organisational planning meetings) but as an independent w class socialist there is also the human side.
    Will this really help working people? Being on the tiny left of Labour (but in no group) I see little hope of making Labour “socialist’ but I do fear sectarianism – I don”t want working class people to be used. But if I am honest, my greatest intellectual fear is independent socialist critical thinking being outvoted by sectarian dogma. Are some about control and recruiting? After all some may have ready made programmes and can they genuinely engage? I think LU (or whatever name we call ourselves) has tremendous potential in giving working people a VOICE and a PROGRESSIVE CHOICE but only if we remain honest with working people (and each other) and only if we maintain a grassroots, bottom up, democratic and transparent approach.
    I hope groups will get out on council estates and multi-ethnic areas and talk to and recruit working people plus have stalls at community galas and festivals which will add an extra dimension to the traditional left wing work of supporting demos, supporting campaigns, city centre stalls, and supporting working people if they go on strike.
    When we have policies we could have public meetings on estates/citywide/for communities of interest to discuss our ideas and to ask for ideas in discussions so we can fine tune our policies in a democratic socialist direction based on real life experience – we should not be afraid to initially treat our policies as ‘drafts’ for working people to discuss.
    So although my head still has some concerns my heart is with LU and by November we will all have to decide but overall so far so good. I think we have the potential to offer an alternative and to give working people a voice and hope.
    Yours in solidarity!

  12. Baton Rouge says:

    `But if I am honest, my greatest intellectual fear is independent socialist critical thinking being outvoted by sectarian dogma.’

    Then adopt a manifesto for the transition to socialism. If LU wish to keep the link between its leadership and the membership and through the membership the wider labour movement then discussing and democratically adopting an holistic manifesto for socialist transition is the only way to avoid degenerating into a horse-trading self-serving sect with a nodding dog membership or indeed the opposite disease of opportunism which presumably is what LU is really being established to defeat.

  13. jonno says:

    Just wondered if instead of a lot of abstract articles, we could have something on concrete issues:say on the Unite/Falkirk selection affair which is spiralling and may have major implications for a new post labour party which is seeking support from progressive unions, etc.

    • Robboh says:

      Don’t hold your breath jonno, tedious abstract diatribes of “socialist” theories spam everywhere on this site. There is no trace of the real world in which public sector workers live in, or any contributions from nurses, teachers, young people/students, the disabled, tenants struggling with their rents, pensioners. All the groups this LU is meant to reach out to, well where are they? No, all we get is posts talking about the “common ownership of the means of production” and revolutionary/non revolutionary phases (????)…what about say a discussion on a fairer tax system?…which might fund public services? not radical enough I guess.

  14. Roy Wall says:

    Sophie Katz: another self-annointed leader of Left Unity?

    Exactly who chose to publish Sophie’s personal struggle with reality as expressed above?

    Left Unity is the continuation of left sectarianism by other means. The traditional left sect consists of a self-annointed leadership guarding the Precious Texts. The rank-and-file membership of the sect is simply replaceable cannon fodder.

    The professed new “strategy” is to dump the precious texts but keep the self-annointed leadership. This dumping is nothing new: it is called liquidationism.

    Sophie is confident enough to also dump Marxism:

    “Unfortunately the Marxists have once again refused (forgotten?) to apply their own Marxism to a study of their own landscape”

    So Sophie has transcended Marxism by adopting an alternative, new(?) method of analysis, but she won’t say what it is nor where she got it from.

    • James Youd says:

      I posted Sophie’s article even though I don’t agree with it and to be honest if I wasn’t a web editor would not have read it. I am a marxist and I hate self appointed leaders too.
      The point about Left Unity whether I agree with people or not is that the bigger enemy has had to much time out from opposition. I hate the attack on the poor, the disabled and the weakest through no fault of their own from the neo-liberal Tories and Liberals, and can’t abide the New Labour warmongery either!
      Solidarity James

  15. jonno says:

    I would also like to see articles on practical issues like how L/U can raise funds so that any person who wants to go to the launch conference can go, we must engage and encourage participation from those at the bottom, making sure they attend the event is one way of this.

    I would suggest we start now, November is not far off.

  16. Jimmy Haddow says:

    Jonno says “I would also like to see articles on practical issues like how L/U can raise funds so that any person who wants to go to the launch conference can go, we must engage and encourage participation from those at the bottom, making sure they attend the event is one way of this. I would suggest we start now, November is not far off.”

    Jonno you raise money by going out on the streets with a stall and discuss with the ordinary working class person about the ideas that you support and ask them to become involved. On these stalls you have leaflets, leftist newspapers and a red plastic receptacle and ask for donations. That is what I do every Saturday as a Socialist Party member. It is not a new idea it is what “sectarian” socialists like myself have been doing for decades. Left Unity supporters are so hang up in trying to find something new that is so different from the so called “sectarians” that they just cannot see the wood for the trees. Personally politically speaking I found the essay ‘Where is the radical left in Britain heading – and where should it go?’ by Sophie Katz politically and theoretically incomprehensible. But I just did not have the time to correct the erroneous conjectures made in it.

  17. Hoom says:


    While I largely agree with you, isn’t the obvious answer for one or both of you to write something for the website? (But not me, because I’m lazy and stuff).

  18. Sophie Katz says:

    Dear James
    Horrible job monitoring contributions to the site. Thank you for your commitment. Personally I do not think that people who who fight for social and political change in favour of all those that are dispossessed, who labour because they need the means to live, who exist on the lowest conditions of life, are not part of the same struggle that I try to be part of. I admire everybody who fights. Without them, / us, humanity is lost. We argue. We say and write our views. That too is what makes us different from our rulers. Of course those who who struggle and fight with daily life belong here. But it is not about leaders. Self appointed or otherwise. It is about clear ideas. It is being truthful about the state of society and the class struggle. That is why we debate. That is why we struggle with history, with theories, as well as with tactics in our unions and communities. That is the least of what socialists should try to be if they want to change the life of billions.

  19. Miguel says:

    The issue is what are the principles upon which a new left party or formation will be founded which is distinct but draws from a ‘traditional’ revolutionary approach (as there are various options on the left already there, let’s be honest) but is also different to the Labour Party in terms of the traditional male officer led party of the 20th Century and the ‘neo-liberal’ leaning middle-class party of the past 20 years? That’s the issue. Is there a space in social and political terms which warrants a new party which mobilises on issues such as equality, environment and exclusion but also defends and develops the gains of social and working class struggles from the 20th Century as expressed in the welfare state? If that space exists then time to fill it and rebuild a radical socialist tradition around it. What is more, assuming that such a party will not have an easy run at power due to the nature of the electoral system, the character of the state and the established/ensconced position of the Labour Party then how can its ‘opposition’ be productive for people’s lives and set new agendas and hope? That’s the debate. If we can work these out and lead to a point where we have a left unity movement linked to red-greens and non-social democratic emancipatory left formations in the EU and beyond then LU is an option. The article by Sophie is important but we need some clear questions first and some realistic answers after. In addition, we need to look at those traditions which Labour has abandoned or never really had: active industrial democracy, radical democratic space, sustaining autonomous civil societies and community solidarity. Personally I think we need to build a new political praxis and dialogue which moves away from the political hierarchy of the left and the current pseudo-populist aspects of putting thousands of people in halls in an evangelical manner for cathartic purposes. Then people can build and develop progressive traditions we know have been vital to the left in the UK.

  20. Infantile Disorder says:

    Ive already said on another thread, I would get more out of debating with Jehovahs Witnesses.This constant refrain about the ‘working class’…..a working class, the ‘work’ of whom is being removed/abolished more and more by technology:and even those still within production are irrelelevant as financial capital and the buying and selling of money and financial products avoid any dependence on ‘labour’.
    Major bases of mobilization are contained within our communities where stuggles take place against bedroom tax, school closures, and all community closures.Starting at the base and then build from that, with community based solutions rather than relying on ‘ tablets of stone’ being passed down from people who cant even organise themselves never mind anyone else.Tie the Community activism in with new forms of Social Trade unionism,( organising outside of traditional structures)that the trade union movement have to embrace to guarantee long term survival,and we have the chance of a resistance movemen, rooted in the practicalaties of everyday life, thereby negating having to listen to/ be accosted by/bored to death by those grouplets whose only saving grace is that they are all a very good cure for insomnia.

  21. Jimmy Haddow says:

    Infantile Disorder I have read your contribution and I find your rhetorical hyperbole quite naively boring. It tells us nothing about how the community, whoever and whatever that is, is able to organise in these “Social Trade unionism”, which is to me is just another undemocratic bureaucratic organisation that nobody knows anything about and will not defend, or advance, the social conditions of the 99 per cent, the working class.

    It is quite ironic that Infantile Disorder hypothesise about “Major bases of mobilization are contained within our communities where stuggles take place against bedroom tax, school closures, and all community closures” when up and down Britain there are anti-bedroom and anti-cuts groups are appearing on a weekly basis. All are organised by working class people on the estates and within the organised traditional trade union movement and socialists, ones that have read Marx, Lenin and Trotsky and ones that have not, have involved in these groups, especially up here in Scotland. As I said in a post above I am out every Saturday, Scottish weather permitting of course, with a campaigning stall against the various aspects of the austerity programme, specifically the bedroom tax; or I am at some other activity associated with defending the working class against the attacks by the capitalist class. Let us call things by their correct name and let us not be namby pamby about it.

    I leave a Socialist Party Scotland article about how the anti-bedroom campaign is organised in Scotland when on(“)Saturday 27th April saw over 250 delegates and visitors from across the length and breadth of Scotland attend the conference to found the ‘All Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation’. Delegates represented 70 local anti-bedroom tax campaigns. Also sending delegates were four trade union branches representing local government and Housing Association workers.(“)

  22. Miles says:

    Too long.

  23. Infantile Disorder says:

    I find the post of Jimmy Hadden breathtakingly arrogant and ignorant.The idea of social unionism, has its roots in the sacked Liverpool Dockers dispute of the 1990s and the constant discussion and debate and exploration of this new form of trade unionism/organising has come to fruition, I would argue, with the Unite initiative of Community Branches. So Community Branches are undemocratic and bureaucratic?Jimmy, when you are digging yourself into a hole, first lesson fellah, is to stop digging.

  24. john weston says:

    There is a war on–it has been going on since before WW1–and has systematically broken the working class into atomised pieces.
    In all of my near 73 years, I have not seen any sustained cohesion in working class people. Nor is this alone, the work of an overwhelming anti-democratic British Establishment, but in the hearts and memories of vulnerable working people through centuries of war and oppression.
    It is a psychological and economic war against working people, by a dynasty of ruling tyrants, who create our conditions–whether it be to fight foreigners, or fight amongst ourselves.
    They know the problems with which working people have to contend: the workless have no money; the poorly paid have no money to spare; those in decent jobs will take no risks; those who earn more, become middle class and change sides. The incentive of those tyrants/tormentors is to keep working people poor and the country increasingly divided.
    Oppressive Laws now prohibit free speech and expression, as well as, any effectual demonstrations, no matter how morally justified they may be. Laws too can lead to tyranny.
    An Orwellian Britain is only a short time away with all the surveillance and control of “1984” prepared, yet nothing has been done to waken the population.
    The Media is untrustworthy, and corporate politicians are already seeking positions on the Boards of privatised services.
    Such a situation should not need committees or fledgling parties to invigorate consciences and stir a population to action–it does need leaders.
    When I see millions of people justifiably demonstrating against their oppressed conditions, around Westminster, then I’ll believe that, honourable people like Ken Loach have a chance to create a new Social Democratic Britain–and I do wish him and all like him every success.

  25. jane says:

    having attended a Left Unity meeting and read Sophie Katz piece, there is a time and place for dissecting the philosophy of the Labour movement, but if Left Unity wants to present a credible alternative to Labour, it needs to present practical steps against austerity. Many of the working people of Britain appear disinterested in politics and disillusioned, almost resigned to whatever the mainstream media tells them.Across the world we are seeing uprisings against not just austerity but the corrupt self serving systems that have been in power for decades.In Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain. In Brazil it was largely an informed middle class that took to the streets to protest. It is less the political background that interests those on the streets but largely the access to knowledge and media other than the mainstream that has inspired protests largely Wikileaks information about rulers like Ben Ali.May I suggest that Left Unity concentrates on policy and substance to inform the public of credible alternatives to austerity that people can relate to. For example “No to bedroom tax, yes to financial transaction tax”. How many NHS hospitals could be funded by the amounts of corporation tax being evaded by corporations. How much our tax havens in British territories are squirrelling away for the wealthy and who these people are. How much our government & House of Lords costs us in salaries, expenses and other and would this money not be better pent on funding political parties which are not funded by bankers and hedge funds. Also the issue of many in our House of Lords who are chairman of anything from Carpetright to Bupa and various insurance companies. Surely this massive conflict of interests needs to be examined and bought to the general publics’ attention. With the Labour party seemingly moving to the right and the media reporting a very narrow view and indeed silenced by D notices and injunctions it would be up to any party being created on the left to shed new ligt on globalisation and what it could mean for the working masses unles they take a stand.

  26. bob walker says:

    One of the reasons i left the C.P.G.B.was,i thought is was being run by a load of intelectuals.I wish people wuold write or speak in language that the majority of working class understand.Through no fault of their own, most working class have only a basic education. reading some of these comments will just turn them away.

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