The RCN has been chronicling attempts to achieve Left unity in England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland. These attempts have included the formation of the Scottish Socialist Alliance, then the Scottish Socialist Party, the Socialist Alliance and Respect in England and Wales, Forward Wales, the all-Britain Trade Union and Socialist Coalition and No2EU, and the United Left Alliance in Ireland.
All of these initiatives have faltered. One common element has been the sectarian practices of the SWP and the Socialist Party. Another has been dependence on celebrity politicians such as Tommy Sheridan and George Galloway. However, the political problems go deeper than that. The multifaceted crisis capitalism now faces, highlighted by the Credit Crunch, means that capitalism can offer the majority of humanity no way forward. Trying to revivify capitalism by social democratic style neo-Keynesian reforms, particularly on a national basis, represents a political dead end. It means arguing like those late nineteenth century radicals, who, when confronted by the New Imperialism, still believed an earlier Victorian ‘free trade’ world could be restored .
Yet, such is the pull of old-style social democracy, and the lack of self-belief in many self declared revolutionary organisations, they are still trying to rebuild Left unity around a social democratic platform, which revives ‘The Spirit of ’45’. Some others, however, appreciate the need for socialists to act as socialists and to try to achieve Left unity on a specifically socialist basis.
We have already posted material by the Independent Socialist Network, some of whose members have constituted themselves as the Socialist Platform. They intend to argue that this platform should constitute the basis for the new Left Unity initiative (mainly in England), where they will be up against those who wish to revive the failed Respect initiative in a new guise. We are posting their statement and platform below.
The Socialist Platform has been established to promote socialist ideas within Left Unity and to argue that the party set up at the November founding conference should be explicitly socialist, with clear and unambiguous socialist aims and principles.
The Socialist Platform’s ‘Statement of Aims and Principles for the [Left Unity] Party’ is presented for consideration and debate. It sets out briefly what we mean by socialism and some principles to guide the new party in its activities. The Statement is presented in a spirit of enthusiasm for a new party that will represent the interests of the working-class and fight for a new form of society in which the needs of all are met.
A sick society
Capitalism means exploitation, poverty, a widening gap between rich and poor within countries and between them. It can never satisfy the needs of the majority. It destroys lives and wrecks communities. Inter-state rivalry drives the threat of war. Capitalism degrades human relationships; it preaches self-interest rather than solidarity as the human goal. It wounds the planet, perhaps fatally, unless we act.
If a society should be judged on the way it treats the old, the infirm, the sick, the disabled, the young, then this society stands condemned. If a society can be judged on how it protects and nurtures each individual, this one stands condemned. This society is sick, rotten to the core. Capitalism infects everything it touches.
We believe there is an alternative: a society without classes, without exploitation, without rich and poor, without want, without war; a society in which science and technology are used to increase our leisure time and in which humanity lives in harmony with the natural world, not at odds with it; a society with no oppression and discrimination, in which every individual is cherished and able to develop to their full potential. That society is one in which private ownership of the means of production has been replaced by democratic common ownership, where everyone participates in the planning of production in the interests of society as a whole. We believe that these ideas can inspire. We should boldly proclaim them and argue for them.
Those who have signed the platform statement are socialists from different traditions and have different experiences and methods of working. We recognise that there will always be differences in any party, even between those who share a common aim. But we believe that reasonable, comradely debate about our goals and how we can achieve them can only assist in clarifying our ideas and guiding our practical work.
Austerity stamps its imprint
We are facing an avalanche of attacks. The welfare state is being smashed to pieces. Everything that used to be taken for granted is being taken away – free health care, free education, affordable housing and much, much more. Young people face a life in debt, with little prospect of getting a decent place to live or bringing up a family in any sort of comfort. The chances of a meaningful, rewarding job are pretty much non-existent. Those out of work, retired, disabled, sick and living on benefits face a miserable life in poverty. Austerity is stamping its imprint on every aspect of our daily life. Anxiety, depression and even suicide result.
Left Unity has to be a party that is involved in the resistance to austerity. We have to fight as hard as we can to save our hospitals, to defeat the bedroom tax and to stop attacks on our pensions. But so long as we have capitalism, we will have to fight. These attacks will not cease, even if we win victories.
Left Unity will be built by being active in the communities, workplaces, colleges, in every working-class struggle – strikes, occupations, pickets, direct action, and acts of civil disobedience. Consistent work in an area, patiently arguing our case and actively participating in these struggles will win support for our party. But as well as being against the attacks we face now, we must offer a positive alternative. We don’t think that the alternative is a ‘better’ or ‘fairer’ capitalism. It must mean getting rid of capitalism altogether.
We can offer resistance today while also arguing for a new society in which things are organised differently. These things are not opposed but complimentary. That is why we argue for the new party to be both a party that supports all campaigns and struggles to defend and extend our living standards and democratic rights and a party that fights to get rid of capitalism completely and create a new society.
Without a care
Society is divided primarily into two classes. One class – the capitalist class – is numerically small but owns the largest part of the wealth in society and the means of production – the factories, technology, transportation, the land and its natural resources. The other class – the working class – is enormous and comprises the majority in most countries in the world. It is that class of people who own no capital and survive only by selling their ability to work in return for wages.
Whilst capitalism has developed the productive forces out of all recognition over the last 200 years, integrating the whole of the world, it has done so without regard for the misery created for billions of the world’s inhabitants and the destruction of the natural world around us. Capitalism exists simply to expand, to reproduce itself – to make more profit. It pays no heed to human needs unless a profit can be made. It is profit that drives investment, not need. People die for lack of water, food and basic medicines in a world that could easily provide them. Capitalism cares little about the pollution of the air we breathe or the water we drink, rising temperatures or the rising sea levels that ensue. Environmental disasters such as Bhopal or the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are the consequence of profit at any cost.
For all its expansion of the productive forces, capitalism is incapable of meeting the needs of the vast majority of the world’s population. Private ownership of the means of production – factories, technology, transport, the land and its mineral resources – and competition prevent the rational, democratic planning of production. Capitalism claims to be the most efficient system ever – that the market is the best manager of resources – yet even in the advanced capitalist world millions are deprived of the means of existence.
Unemployment in the European Union is now 26.5 million. More than one in five young people in the EU are without a job. In Spain and Greece it is more than half. Yet with the advances in science and technology there could be fulfilling, socially useful work for all with a much reduced working week yet still providing a guaranteed income for all the necessities of life in the modern world. Capitalism prevents this. Socialism could begin to address it.
Capitalism develops through periodic crises, throwing the world into turmoil. Humanity is in thrall to the whim of the undemocratic market. These crises are an inextricable and inevitable consequence of the private ownership of the means of production. The latest crisis has given fresh impetus to the attacks on all the reforms made since the Second World War with the argument that there is no alternative.
There is an alternative
It is this argument that has to be addressed. Those born now and future generations will have few of the benefits of the ‘welfare state’, which is being smashed up in front of us, unless we do something about it. These gains were only a temporary makeover of the ugly reality of capitalism that existed for most of its history. Their system is in crisis and the owners of capital intend to resolve the crisis in the way they always do – by making the working class pay.
Nor should we forget that even under the ‘welfare state’, millions still lived in poverty, without access to fulfilling work and a secure life. Elsewhere, unremitting misery prevailed and still continues for the two-thirds on the planet who exist in abject poverty.
The destruction of the things we cherish is not accidental, nor driven simply by ideology. It is driven by the dynamics of the profit system and by the need of the owners of capital to protect that system. If the system exists to make a profit, then everything that stands in the way must be bulldozed. If the capitalists can’t make the profit they want, they won’t invest. So, business taxes must be reduced, regulation must be minimised, wages must be lowered, workers must work faster and longer, services provided by the state must be privatised. To make all this more easily achieved, trade union and workers’ rights must be restricted and civil liberties denied. If investments turn bad, we must bail them out.
Any government that aims to manage capitalism, rather than dismantling it and restructuring society with production for need not profit, will inevitably be forced by the logic of the market and the workings of the system to act in the interests of the capitalist class. If a government wants capitalism to work better, it will be forced by the economic basis of the system to do whatever is necessary to make it work better. That means implementing policies that promote investment and maximising profits, in other words, low taxes, minimum regulation, low wages, privatisation and so on. This is the reason that the social democratic parties across the world, like the Labour Party, PASOK in Greece or PSOE in Spain, support austerity policies. Because they cannot contemplate a break with capitalism they are compelled to act in its interests.
Capitalism cannot be made to work in the interests of the majority. That is not how it functions. Big business will always find ways to flout or ignore regulation. Even if regulation succeeds, which it never can fully, the basic exploitative relationship between capital and labour remains – the capitalist makes his/her profit out of the unpaid labour of the workers s/he employs.
The new party must stand against oppression and discrimination. Everyone who has signed up to the Left Unity project will be committed to the emancipation of women, LGBT liberation and an ending of racism and all other forms of discrimination. The fuller party programme will have to elaborate in more detail the steps we fight for now and in the future.
We have to combat discrimination and oppression now and always, but without the eradication of class society we believe that there is no chance of ridding society of the oppression of women and all other forms of oppression and discrimination. We are convinced that the ending of capitalism is a necessary step towards ending oppression and discrimination in all its forms. It is a process that we can begin but which others may have to complete. This means that we will be engaged in all campaigns that take up the fight against oppression now, consistently working to strengthen them.
We recognise that young people face an uncertain future and within their communities they are often the target of police harassment, bullying, unemployment on top of the widespread deprivation. Our new party must be at the forefront of opposing racist state methods against the youth, by reaching out to them, standing with them when they confront the state and winning them to a vision of different society. Against oppression our watchword is solidarity.
The environmental catastrophe being prepared by the profit system’s pell-mell rush to make a profit, without a thought of the consequences, is one of the most glaring examples of the inability of capitalism to protect humanity from disaster. No amount of regulation could tackle greenhouse gas emissions or prevent another Bhopal, so long as private interest dictates production. This can only fully be addressed when decisions about production are no longer taken by a few self-interested private owners but by society as a whole.
Left Party Platform
The Left Party Platform has presented a Statement for adoption by the new party and an accompanying article “Towards a new left party”. There is much in both the statement and the article that we agree with and we welcome some improvements in formulations in comparison with the document presented to the national Left Unity meeting on 11 May.
Both documents are primarily a description of the dismantling of the welfare state, the rightward shift of the Labour Party and the need to fight austerity. These general issues have led each one of us to respond positively to Ken Loach’s appeal for a discussion and debate about the need for a new party. We are all interested in creating and building a new party to represent the interests of those whom the Labour Party has abandoned. Working-class people have no useful representation by any political party.
However, both of the LPP documents fail to state clearly what is the cause of the problems they describe or the solutions to them. The documents contain generalisations and vague, inadequate formulations, with no clear aims or principles set out. It is not enough to be against austerity and neo-liberalism, without also explaining that the crisis is rooted in capitalism and that the answer lies only in getting rid of it.
No return to 1945
We are all against austerity. We have to organise the maximum resistance to it. But resistance is not enough. Creating a new party is not enough. What type of party? A new party must have a political programme to chart a way to an alternative to austerity. That alternative is not a return to the welfare state of the 1945 Labour government but an advance to a completely new form of society. The political and economic circumstances that led to the creation of the welfare state under capitalism no longer exist. That is why the attacks on it are taking place.
Neither of the LPP documents gives any clear indication of what sort of party the LPP wants to set up. Will it be a party that tries to manage capitalism? Or will it be a party that breaks with capitalism? At different places the documents seem to point in different directions. Whilst there are references to socialism in the documents, it is unclear from the context what exactly is meant by the use of the word. It is this lack of clarity that detracts from both documents.
There are references to renationalisation of the privatised industries but no mention of the abolition of private ownership of the means of production more generally. The only conclusion one can draw is that the documents are calling for a ‘mixed economy’, an economy in which industry remains primarily in private hands with some in state hands. This remains capitalism. The profit system will remain, the nationalised industries will service big business. Overall, the impression is conveyed that the LPP aims at a return to some sort of social-democratic golden age, when the Labour Party was more left-wing. In so far as any clear aim can be discerned it aims at managing capitalism, not getting rid of it.
This impression is reinforced by the references to new left-wing parties in Europe. Again, the documents are vague. For example, the LPP Statement refers to Greece, France, Germany and elsewhere, where “new political parties have developed, drawing together a range of left forces, posing political, social and economic alternatives. They are anti-capitalist parties that stand against neo-liberalism and the destruction of the welfare states – whether at the hands of the right or of social democracy – and fight for alternative social, economic and political policies.”
It would have been far clearer if the ‘alternatives’ being posed by these parties had been spelled out. Are they alternatives that allow capitalism to continue, in which case those alternatives are doomed to failure? Or are they alternatives that posit a breach with capitalism, in which case they should be supported? Anyone who follows European politics will know that there is an array of political voices inside these parties, some socialist, some social-democratic, some Stalinist, some liberal. Which voice in these parties is the LPP asking us to emulate? Is it the wing of Die Linke, which implemented cuts in coalition with the social democratic SPD in Berlin leading to its rejection by the voters in 2011? Notwithstanding the rapid rise in popularity of Syriza, is it not clear that its leader Alexis Tsipras is presenting a more emollient face and retreating from any idea of fundamental change?
It is not enough just to be a ‘left-wing’ party. The UK Green Party could justifiably claim to be a ‘left-wing’ party but its council in Brighton has implemented cuts. A lack of clarity about the aims and principles of our new party at its inception runs the risk of allowing the examples of Berlin and Brighton to be repeated.
That is why we believe that it is important to set out the aims and principles in the way we have.
Arguments against a socialist party
Various arguments have been raised against having such an explicit commitment to socialism.
The strangest objection comes from some socialists who argue that we should not be so explicit because we will ‘frighten people off’ or we will ‘wreck the left unity project’. “It will never get off the ground if you argue for socialism too soon”, they say. “It’s a broad party we’re building. You can’t impose socialism on it, otherwise it won’t be inclusive.”
We do not believe that those who want to fight against austerity will be put off from joining a socialist party that openly and patiently argues its case. Who are the people who it is feared will walk away? Those who we campaign alongside in the anti-cuts campaigns, the anti-bedroom tax protests, opposition to imperialist wars and against racism are unlikely to be repelled by our arguments. We will say, “We want to fight here and now to [stop the privatisation of the NHS] [oppose the bedroom tax][oppose police brutality] but we also want to fight for a society in which we no longer have to get up each morning to fight these fights. We want a society in which hospitals don’t get closed and in which there is no police racism. It’s called socialism. But to get it we have to build a party that will campaign for it. You should join it.” How will this put people off?
Another argument is that the supporters of this platform want a ‘narrow’ party, whereas they want a ‘broad’ party. We want a mass working-class party, which will include all who want to support the party’s aims. There is nothing to be gained from being in a narrow or small party. We set our sights on transforming society. We believe that can only be achieved by the majority of the working class acting in their own interests to get rid of capitalism and begin afresh. To reach that stage will require a mass party of millions of activist persuaders, millions of people who will argue for socialism.
We are a long way from that at the moment. It will take time, hard work and patience. It cannot be achieved overnight. Those who believe that fudging the aims and principles of the party is a quicker way to achieve support will find very quickly that it is not. It will lead to confusion, opportunism and disappointment. Far better to try to get things correct at the beginning, even if it means taking things more slowly. To make the party successful will require a long period of work in working-class communities, earning respect for its hard work and principled positions.
Other complaints will be about the language used. There is a very real concern here. We agree that we must try to present socialist ideas in an accessible way so that those who are unfamiliar with them can more easily understand them. If people think our statement could be better written, we welcome suggestions to improve it.
But, more often than not, this objection is nothing to do with language. It is an argument that hides the real objection, which is to the ideas of socialism themselves, not the way they are presented. Let’s be clear. Socialist ideas have become less popular and less common in society over the last thirty years. Many are unfamiliar with them. Our task is to make socialism popular, not to try to become popular by hiding it. But the only way that we can do this is by arguing for them. We will never make them popular if we don’t go out confidently and boldly to make our case.
Behind this argument about language is another concern. Some people may be worried that if we are too stridently socialist, because the ideas are not a mass force in society now, we will not obtain good votes when we stand in elections. But we cannot hide what we stand for. We must be different. We must determine our policies on the basis of our aims and principles, and campaign to win support for them. To do anything else will lead us in the footsteps of the Labour Party, which continues marching to the right on the issue of immigration because it believes that is the way to get more votes.
If we want to be seen as truly incorruptible and different from other parties, we must be seen as the people who say what they think. We would rather say what we think and not get elected, than water down our policies to win votes. Of course, we want to win seats so that we have an even greater presence in society and a stronger base from which to argue our case. But any seat won by hiding what we think will not be worth having.
Say what you think
We believe that it is important to debate these issues openly, seriously and in a reasonable tone. This places an obligation on all to present their arguments for consideration, criticism, refinement, rejection or agreement.
Every member of Left Unity should argue for what they believe. There should be a thorough debate in the branches and a vote should be taken at conference. Through a comradely debate our ideas will become clearer. Those who lose will then have to campaign to win a majority next time and those who win must prove in practice that their approach works. There is nothing unusual about this.
The Statement is a starting point. It is not a party programme or a policy statement. It is intended only to lay solid socialist foundations for the new party. It makes clear that socialism has to be international and democratic. We welcome criticism, suggestions for improvement, additions. No doubt there will be plenty of debate about programme, tactics, methods of work, terminology and other aspects of party work. But if we get the principles and aims of the party unambiguously established from the beginning, those debates will be framed by a clear idea of where we want to end up, making it much easier to measure our work and achievements against our overall objective. If we get things right at the beginning, we have a much better chance or building something significant, that will play a central role in changing history.
We present the Statement for your support. Please sign it if you agree with it.
Mark Boothroyd, Tim Lessells, Soraya Lawrence, Will McMahon, Cat Rylance, Chris Strafford, Nick Wrack
1. The [Left Unity] party is a socialist party. Its aim is to bring about the end of capitalism and its replacement by socialism.
2. Under capitalism, production is carried out solely to make a profit for the few, regardless of the needs of society or damage to the environment. Capitalism does not and cannot be made to work in the interests of the majority. Its state and institutions will have to be replaced by ones that act in the interests of the majority.
3. Socialism means complete political, social and economic democracy. It requires a fundamental breach with capitalism. It means a society in which the wealth and the means of production are no longer in private hands, but are owned in common. Everyone will have the right to participate in deciding how the wealth of society is used and how production is planned to meet the needs of all and to protect the natural world on which we depend. We reject the idea that the undemocratic regimes that existed in the former Soviet Union and other countries were socialist.
4. The [Left Unity] party opposes all oppression and discrimination, whether on the basis of gender, nationality, ethnicity, disability, religion or sexual orientation, and aims to create a society in which such oppression and discrimination no longer exist.
5. Socialism has to be international. The interests of the working class are the same everywhere. The [Left Unity] party opposes all imperialist wars and military interventions. It rejects the idea that there is a national solution to the problems of capitalism. It stands for the maximum solidarity and cooperation between the working class in Britain and elsewhere. It will work with others across Europe to replace the European Union with a voluntary European federation of socialist societies.
6. The [Left Unity] party aims to win support from the working class and all those who want to bring about the socialist transformation of society, which can only be accomplished by the working class itself acting democratically as the majority in society.
7. The [Left Unity] party aims to win political power to end capitalism, not to manage it. It will not participate in governmental coalitions with capitalist parties at national or local level.
8. So long as the working class is not able to win political power for itself, the [Left Unity] party will participate in working class campaigns to defend all past gains and to improve living standards and democratic rights. But it recognises that any reforms will only be partial and temporary so long as capitalism continues.
9. The [Left Unity] party will use both parliamentary and extraparliamentary means to build support for its ultimate goal-the socialist transformation of society.
10. All elected representatives will be accountable to the party membership and will receive no payment above the average wage of a skilled worker (the exact level to be determined by the party conference) plus legitimate expenses.
Join the platform.