A call has been put out by a number of small left-wing groups and individuals for a new party. Left Unity, the Breakthrough Party, the People’s Alliance of the Left, and three Liverpool Community Independents councillors, together with other individuals have put out a call for a new party of the left under the working name Transform.
The initiative is no surprise. In the fallout of the defeat of Corbyn and the rout of the left inside the Labour Party, there have been calls for a new party from various quarters. But what sort of new party? That is the key question.
Hundreds of thousands of those who joined Labour, inspired by Corbyn and his political agenda, left in a mixture of demoralisation, disorientation, and disgruntlement. Starmer and the right wing now dominate. The continued witch-hunt and purge has seen socialists and anyone mildly critical or independent suspended, expelled, driven out, prevented from seeking office or otherwise side-lined. All of Corbyn’s programme has been ditched. Starmer and his acolytes are preparing for government by promising nothing, trying to dampen expectations. Their only positive is that they are not the Tories. Attacks on the working-class, the trade unions, the public sector and especially the NHS are inevitable under a Labour government.
The Labour Party has never been a socialist party. It was, and still is, a capitalist workers’ party. It has a pro-business, pro-capitalist leadership, but with a working-class base, through the affiliation of the bulk of the trade unions, and a working-class electorate. Its core ideology has always been a reformist one, that is, one that aims to manage capitalism, rather than to abolish it. That means that it has always defended capitalism and worked to save it; to try to make it work better, while seeking to ameliorate some of the worst aspects of capitalism by making some limited reforms. The room for reforms has significantly diminished over the last forty years
The election of Corbyn as Labour Party leader and the entry of 300,000 new members backing him was a serious worry for the capitalist class. Yet Corbyn is not a socialist. He is a left social democrat. The 2017 and 2019 manifestos were not socialist programmes. Corbyn did not even propose the reinstatement of the flawed Clause IV, abolished in 1994 under Tony Blair’s leadership. Notwithstanding that Corbyn’s programme was a mild social-democratic, reformist programme, less radical than previous left-wing programmes that had been adopted in the Labour Party, it made things uncertain and unstable for the ruling class. Most of all, the ruling class feared that the radicalised membership and millions of supporters outside the party would demand more, pushing Corbyn and a left-wing government further and further to the left.
Now Labour is back in safer hands. Starmer, Streeting and others on the openly pro-business wing are firmly in charge. This has been the project of the ruling capitalist class since Corbyn won in 2015. The ruling class needs Labour as a safe second team to represent its interests, to step in when the Tories are removed. Those interests depend on capitalism being maintained and supported by the government, enabling the owners of capital to squeeze more profit from the working class. This is what will happen under Starmer.
Starmer’s emphasis on ‘growth’ is code for an emphasis on creating the economic environment to create more profit, a variant on the ‘trickle-down’ theory of economics. In reality, it means that the working class will continue to pay for the economic crisis of the capitalist system – through inflation, unemployment, an intensification of labour through faster production times and a longer working week. All this has to be resisted. Profit is the unpaid labour of the working class. Increased profit can only be achieved by a greater exploitation of the working class.
Unfortunately, the trade unions leaders have failed, for the most part, to lead militant fightbacks against pay cuts and have made little, or no criticism of the direction Starmer is taking Labour. Apart from the Bakers’ Union, there has been no talk of disaffiliation or of forming a new party. Such calls will grow from below, especially under a Labour government that is attacking workers.
Understandably, therefore, against this background, with no initiative coming from the left trade unions or members of the Socialist Campaign Group, the call by ‘Transform’ is a seeking to fill a gap. How should workers, who hate the Tories but can’t or won’t support Starmer, vote? For that, at least, those who have initiated the call are to be commended.
Still wedded to Corbynism
But this call for a new party is completely inadequate. It is nothing but a call to build Corbynism outside the Labour Party. It is predicated on the support that existed for Corbyn’s mild reformist programme and it hopes to build that anew, except without the attraction of Corbyn or the backing of the trade unions. However, Corbynism is not enough. It presents no answers to the economic, social and climate crises we face, all of which demand an end to the present capitalist system. The socialist left must discuss the lessons to be drawn from Corbyn’s defeat and move beyond Corbyn and his limited programme of reform.
The proposed new party is not a socialist party. It does not state that its aim is to get rid of capitalism and its profit system, the system of wage labour by which the working class is exploited to produce profit for the owners of capital.
It does not identify capitalism as the cause of inequality, poverty, wars and climate catastrophe. Without ending capitalism, none of these can be eradicated. In the modern world, with the crisis of capitalist production, even mild reforms won through militant actions will be taken away as soon as that struggle weakens. The new party is accepting the continuation of capitalism, while seeking to ameliorate its essential and inevitable consequences. In the end, this is just a utopian, reformist impossibility. Capitalism can never be made to work in the interests of the working class, the overwhelming majority of the world’s population. The aim of socialists should not be to manage capitalism but to replace it.
Argue for socialism – our ultimate goad
Socialism is a completely new form of society, with the extension of democracy to all aspects of life, including the economy. That means that the wealth of society, the resources of the world, are owned in common by all, and democratically planned by all, in the interests of all. The ‘means of production’ – the land, its waters and minerals, the factories, machines, technology and scientific knowledge, transport – will all be owned, planned, run and managed democratically by all in the interests of all and of the environment on which we all depend. There will be no bosses. Classes will have disappeared. The state as an instrument of oppression will have disappeared. We will have a society in which everyone will work to the best of their abilities, and everyone will receive what they need.
Socialism is also the term used to describe the body of ideas of socialism, the ideology of socialism, including how we get there. This is the discussion we need to have on the socialist left. How do we get to the new society, in which this decaying, rotten, alienating, and destructive capitalism has been consigned to the history books?
Firstly, we do need a new party. But that party has to be clear about its aim. Its aim must be socialism. We cannot seek to win votes by watering down our programme. This is chasing gold at the end of the rainbow. We cannot be dishonest and pretend that capitalism can somehow deliver equality, prosperity and a clean environment. We must tell the truth. Our aim must not be to become popular by hiding our ideas, but to make the ideas of socialism popular by explaining how necessary they are. It is better to start small but with a clear idea of where we want to go, than to attempt short cuts that can only lead to more disappointment and failure. The experiences of other ‘new parties of the left’ over the past twenty years prove the disastrous road that should not be followed: Podemos in Spain (which inspired the British Labour Party’s Momentum), Syriza in Greece, Die Linke, and more recently the Broad Front in Chile.
The weakness of the proposed new party’s core principles are revealed in the very first paragraph:
[The new party] Is a left party, of and for the working class in all its diversity, seeking to redistribute wealth and power from the elite to the people.
What is a left party? What is meant by ‘seeking to redistribute wealth and power from the elite to the people’? This deliberately avoids talking about socialism and the abolition of capitalism. Redistribution of wealth and power is another way of saying ‘tax the rich’. But that is not the answer to the problems we face. We must do what we can now to force the rich to pay more in tax. But our programme in government cannot be limited to tax reform. It accepts that industry will remain in private hands. It accepts that workers will be exploited to make profit for the owners. That profit will then be taxed. Power remains in the hands of the owners. Distribution follows ownership. Capitalism continues.
Wealth taxes on businesses, increased income taxes for the rich, or increased corporation taxes are not the answer. Increased corporation tax will lead to less investment by private investors. Any left-wing government that fails to break the power of the capitalists will be faced with the economic dilemma: increase corporation tax and stifle investment or cut corporation tax and reduce the tax revenue. We need a programme to cut through this Gordian Knot. The answer is a fundamental break with capitalism on an international basis. We need common ownership of the productive forces. No profits will be made, no workers exploited.
Perhaps those who drafted the Core Principles will point to the sentence in their introductory call:
We need a political organisation that offers a real solution: one that challenges the system at the root of every crisis we face.
But what does this mean? What is the ‘real solution’? Is it the abolition of capitalism, the ending of the profit system, and the expropriation of the capitalist class? If so, why not say so? Or is it simply one that ‘challenges’ the system (what is this system? Is it capitalism?) for limited reforms? Plain, clear, unambiguous language is called for, rather than what appears to be a deliberate fudging of the issue.
Why talk about the ‘elite’, rather than the capitalist class? It mystifies the real class relations that dominate our lives. We need to know our enemy. It is the capitalist class. Of course, we must fight now for an extension of democracy as far as possible, but so long as the capitalists remain the owners of the means of production they will remain in control of the state and control production for their own interests – profit – rather than for the needs of the rest of us and the environment. Any reforms we win will constantly be under threat of reversal. To ensure our victory is permanent, we need to expropriate the capitalist class.
No short cuts
The answer will no doubt come back: but that is too extreme. You can’t say that. It will put people off. People don’t agree with that. Our answer must be: Perhaps not yet. But we can win them to our ideas by being confident and presenting our ideas clearly. Our ideas are not extreme. It is capitalism that is extreme. Fundamental change is necessary to end those extremes. Many people will instinctively understand our arguments because of their experience at work, study, home, retirement. By patiently explaining the reality of the way our economy and society works we can persuade the working class that things need to change fundamentally, and in their interests, and that they have the power to make that fundamental change.
There are no short cuts. To win the working class to the ideas of socialism will not be achieved overnight. But it will never be achieved if we constantly and deliberately abandon our socialist programme for fear of putting people off.
We do need a new party. We need a mass socialist party. We cannot suck it out of our thumbs. Those who agree with the idea of building such a party should join with us, and with others, to build such a party. We would like to discuss our ideas with those involved in Transform and all others on the left. Socialists-communists (I use the words as meaning the same) need to work together to build the beginnings of a new mass socialist party. There are thousands of socialists-communists in Britain who are not in any existing organisation. We call on you to join our discussions. There are thousands of socialists in parties like the Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal. These parties should be seeking to form a united new Socialist-Communist Party. Together we could build a serious, significant socialist-communist party which could dramatically transform the political landscape in the trade unions, and on the left in general.