At its meeting in June, the National Coordinating Group of Left Unity decided that platforms, with a minimum of ten signatures, could put resolutions to the November founding conference. In the course of the summer, three platforms, the Left Party Platform, the Socialist Platform and the Class Struggle Platform have been submitted and have sparked a lively discussion over the kind of party we are seeking to build.
Such a discussion is absolutely necessary and members of Workers Power and Left Unity submitted the Class Struggle Platform, not as the basis for any kind of tendency or faction before any decisions on the character of the party have been taken, but as a contribution to that discussion.
We see our platform as a proposal, open for amendment or compositing with other drafts. We certainly believe there should be a debate on the differing visions contained in the platforms on November 30 – but we think it would almost certainly be too soon to make a final decision between them.
What we think should be possible is to agree on a series of important planks of a programme of action that will enable us to intervene in the struggle to defend the NHS and all the other post-1945 social gains that are under attack. Integrally related to this is the need to confront the failing strategies being pursued by Labour and major trade union leaders.
If we do this, we believe Left Unity can draw in an increasing number of members and make a real impact in the resistance movement; in the People’s Assemblies, the anti-cuts committees and individual campaigns. Campaigning for these policies in the broader labour and anti-austerity movement will also generate a comradely spirit among activists who have not worked together before. This, in turn, will form a solid basis for continuing the debate on exactly what sort of party Left Unity should become, what are our ultimate goals and what methods we must adopt to realise them.
The Left Party Platform (LPP) and Socialist Platform (SP) offer contrasting models for building a new Left Party. In its motivation, the LPP refers positively to Syriza in Greece (see below) and the Front de Gauche in France and envisages Left Unity becoming what it calls a “broad party”, that is, a left reformist party. In the LPP, socialism is regarded as one of a spectrum of progressive goals, not an overarching or all-encompassing one.
It talks of, “an alternative set of values of equality and justice: socialist, feminist, environmentalist and against all forms of discrimination. Its politics and policies will stand against capitalism, imperialism, war, racism and fascism.”
The problem with taking the above “broad parties” as some sort of model is that they all have at their core former Stalinist parties that inherited a substantial electoral base and parliamentary representation. Many, such as Die Linke in Germany, also benefitted from electoral systems that allow representation for minority parties.
Trotskyists have described these parties as “left reformist” because they envisage ending private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange by winning a majority in parliamentary elections, even if this needs to be supplemented by mass mobilisations, direct action or even general strikes.
The origins of this combination of “Marxist” theory with reformist practice go back to the pre-1914 Second International and the post-1918 Labour Party in Britain. It was reborn after the Second World War with the Communist Party’s British Road to Socialism in its various versions. To this, the LPP adds something of a rainbow coalition of –isms; feminism, environmentalism, antiracism, anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism, etc.
We strongly agree that all these areas of struggle need to be an integral part of what Left Unity fights for, but we think they should be integrated into a full socialist programme. In addition, we do not think that these struggles should be left to parallel, but separate, movements which accompany the class struggle at a respectful distance. On the contrary, the campaigns should be closely intertwined with the class struggle today and their aims should enrich the definition of what a socialist world will be.
The Socialist Platform envisages a more traditionally socialist, working class, “Clause IV, Old Labour”, even Marxist, party; albeit one that still does not explicitly identify itself as revolutionary.
“•The [Left Unity] Party is a socialist party. Its aim is to bring about the end of capitalism and its replacement by socialism.
•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.
• The [Left Unity] Party aims to win political power, to end capitalism, not to manage
We agree with every one of these propositions as far as they go and could see them embodied in our final programme, defining its goal. Nonetheless, they leave major questions unanswered. For example, although the platform assures us that socialism means an end to private ownership of the means of production and the introduction of democratic planning to meet human need and end environmental destruction, it does not say how the capitalist class is to be deprived of this ownership.
Equally, we are assured that “a fundamental breach” with capitalism is necessary but the obvious question, “Do you mean a revolution?” is left unanswered. Instead, the platform repeatedly talks about democracy in a general and abstract, that is, in a classless, way. This ducks the question of whether the party is to advocate workers’ democracy, let alone whether a dictatorship of the proletariat, as Marx defined it, is necessary to break the resistance of the exploiters.
In short, despite its constant reaffirmation of socialism, it leaves open the question of reform and revolution. This is justified in the initial period when the party is only just opening a discussion on its programme and the crucial task is to draw into LU large numbers who have hitherto supported Labour or who have never been in far left organisations. We need young people who have become politically active in direct action campaigns like Occupy or UK Uncut. We need militant rank and file trade unionists like the Sparks. It is with all these people that we need to discuss our programme and its goals.
For this reason, we believe our founding conference in November will not yet be able to define itself as a revolutionary Marxist Party. However, we do not believe it should define itself, overtly or covertly, as a reformist party either. That is not to say that the question, reform or revolution, is unimportant, or can remain unanswered indefinitely. Far from it. We agree with Rosa Luxemburg,
“ … people who pronounce themselves in favour of the method of legislative reform in place of, and in contradistinction to, the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal. (Reform or Revolution chapter 8)
We do not believe that a left reformist party is some sort of necessary stage in the development of a new working class party. Nor is such a party sufficient for immediate tasks such as “defending the NHS” until such time as a revolutionary crisis demands “something better”, that is, a revolutionary (Leninist) party. We believe the latter is a party for all seasons, not just for the stormy times of the revolution.
There are also practical obstacles to the scenario of building a broad, plural, reformist party. The left trade union leaders, the Labour Representation Committee and left MPs like John McDonnell as well as the Communist Party of Britain-Morning Star (exactly the UK versions of the forces at the core of the European “broad” parties) are all vehemently opposed to Left Unity or any sort of breach with Labour, “yet”.
The Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party, the equivalents of those forces in France and Greece who built anticapitalist or new parties have not even been sought as participants in the project. All this makes the perspective an impracticable utopia as well as not being desirable in itself.
What we need to build is a party of grass roots activists that can address, and help the working class solve, the strategic confusion that the British Labour Movement is in at the moment. This means an organisation that dares to say, and to organise, what is necessary, whatever the present leaders of the resistance try to limit us to. It means an organisation that sets out to build real organs of the fight back that are not under the domination either of a sect or of a handful of union general secretaries.
Over the year ahead huge challenges face the working class – most centrally the destruction of the welfare state whose creation is shown in Ken Loach’s The Spirit of ’45. We believe that at the November 30 conference we can agree a limited action programme of policies and demands which address these challenges and which present an immediate alternative to the failed strategy of the trade union and labour leaders.
What we in Workers Power suggest is that Left Unity should campaign for: