The Left Party Platform in Left Unity has called a public meeting on 17 October “to present the case for a broad left party”. Dave Stockton argues why this should not be our model
Workers Power shares one thing at least with the framers of the Left Party Platform. We want to see a real mass influx of working class militants both from the unions and from Labour Party members and voters even if, as we recognise will be the case, many of them will inevitably be “socialists” in the traditional Labour Party (i.e. reformist) sense.
But we also believe that it is the duty of revolutionary communists – people who unashamedly calls themselves Marxists, Leninists and Trotskyists – to win these people to a programme based on these principles. In short we want Left Unity to become a revolutionary party. How? Not by presenting this as an ultimatum to them but by demonstrating in practice, in the class struggle the superiority of these methods to those of reformism and centrism.
The point of our Class Struggle Platform, which we have submitted to Left Unity’s founding conference in November, is to prove that its demands and slogans are both objectively necessary and contain elements of a transitional method – rank and file movement, councils of action, self-defence groups, a workers’ government – to guide today’s struggles. On the page opposite, you can read an action programme, which we intend to submit to the conference.
Unlike the supporters of the Left Party Platform and Socialist Resistance (British section of the Fourth International), Workers Power believes that trying to build a significant left reformist party in Britain today is neither desirable in principle nor is it possible in practice.
We do not believe that left reformist parties will suffice for some sort of pre-ordained stage of “defending the welfare state and presenting an economic alternative to austerity”. On the contrary, in periods of deep capitalist crisis reformist parties will disastrously betray the working class.
What Left Unity must become if it is to survive and play an important role is to grow into a party of grassroots activists, who can address the strategic confusion of the British Labour movement. This means an organisation that dares to say what is, whatever the present leaders of the resistance try to limit us to. And one that sets out to build real, democratic organs of the fightback – neither under the domination of a left sect nor under the even more dangerous rule of the union general secretaries.
We believe this can best be done around an immediate action programme both to guide the struggles ahead and to spread its message by standing candidates where this is realistic.
The proponents of copying the model of Die Linke, Syriza of the Front de Gauche – most seriously theorised by Socialist Resistance – start off from the proposition that the move to the right of Labour and European Social Democracy in the 1990s means that a political space has been vacated, which invites “broad parties”, providing they stick to a left reformist programme, to occupy, winning seats in parliament, and offering old-style genuine pro-working class reform. These boil down to defence and extension of the welfare state and a peaceful foreign policy.
Sounds familiar? It should; it is the programme of the Labour left and the latter day Communist Parties (especially the Eurocommunists).
While it is empirically true that parties like Rifondazione Comunista in Italy, the PDS-WASG and then Die Linke in Germany and Syriza in Greece did indeed expand into a “space” abandoned by the old reformist parties (respectively the PCI-DP, the SPD, and Pasok), it is false to say this space was in some objective way crying out for left reformism. Firstly it was far from being an empty space.
In every case, as we have seen, it was already occupied by post-Communist (Stalinist) parties and these, with their electorates, MPs and councillors, became the core of all these new parties, so enabling them to get a flying start. To these were added refugees from social democracy and a range of far left groups.
The actual record of these parties over the next decade or so were far from inspiring, provided you do not focus exclusively on the latest “rising star”, such as Syriza last year. Rifondazione with its left reformist leadership wrecked the Italian left and virtually destroyed itself by joining a government led by a Christian Democrat and supporting austerity and the use of US bases for military interventions.
The PDS and then Die Linke have formed cuts coalitions in the German provinces. The Front de Gauche supported the French imperialist intervention in Mali. Syriza is rapidly backtracking from its 2012 rejection of all austerity and calling a halt to debt repayments. None of these parties were able to play a vanguard role in resistance to the right, concentrating instead on electoral politics with a dash of community and libertarian rhetoric.
In short these reformist parties are not what the working class needs in a deep and prolonged crisis of capitalism. At a critical moment they will let down the masses, spreading confusion and disillusion. For revolutionaries not only to fail to challenge, but actively to sow illusions in them is criminally irresponsible.
Left Labour still an obstacle
But apart from the unprincipled (from a Marxist, Leninist or Trotskyist point of view) character of such a project there remains one other reason for not adopting it, which even a pragmatic, Anglo-Saxon might consider worth sparing a thought over.
The forces, which on the continent set up and developed these broad parties, are either absent in Britain or otherwise engaged.
The Communist Party of Britain, though somewhat divided on the question internally, is publicly absolutely wedded to voting Labour in 2015. The trade unions – all but the RMT and one or two others – are still wedded to Labour or – like the PCS and NUT –constitutionally bound into an apolitical stance. This will be even more so if Miliband hews to his present line.
The Labour Representation Committee and the Labour left, from veterans like Tony Benn through stalwarts like John McDonnell to a young tribune like Owen Jones, are all utterly committed to Labour for the foreseeable future.
The sizeable far left groups (those equivalent to the left in Syriza or like the LCR, which founded the NPA in France) have been made extremely unwelcome in Left Unity. Even those small socialist groups within it have been not exactly warmly treated – with the exception of Socialist Resistance.
So the British equivalents of all those forces that made up such “broad” or “new left” parties in Europe are vehemently opposed to Left Unity or any sort of breach with Labour “yet”. The Left Party Platform view that we should model ourselves on the “broad”, “plural” parties of the continent is an impractical utopia and in principle a reactionary one as well.