What sort of new party of the left?

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. 

Safer hands

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.

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18 thoughts on “What sort of new party of the left?

  1. It’s absolutely understandable that people are disillusioned Labour. But its also correct that the latest call for a new left party is yet another attempt at patching things together on a very vaguely leftist basis.
    If the SWP, Socialist Party and others got together, would that create a party with a real base in the working class? The Socialist Alliance had potential (*see note), but in practice the SWP & SP both had inadequate politics, and proved they were interested in short-term organisational gains.
    They ripped the Alliance apart.
    So what would be different now?

    * Note: there is a massive question about the Labour Party, which is a reformist party but still has organic links with the unions and wider working class support. And, although there are still spaces for the left to fight within Labour – and in the unions for Labour Party accountantability – there has been a notable failure to do so.
    Expecting the SWP, SP, and smaller grouplets to unite in building something with real roots outside Labour, doesn’t seem credible to me. If there was a god, I’d say God help us

    1. Thanks, Alan. I don’t expect the SP, SWP or Soc Appeal to unite, or even to see the need to unite. They each see themselves as being THE socialist party. Objectively, the serious thing to do would be for them to seek to unite into a single unified communist/socialist party (I use the terms to mean the same thing). But they won’t.

      That leaves people like us to build something serious, democratic and explicitly socialist, together with comrades like you. From tiny acorns, great oak trees grow.

      1. This article dismisses the Transform project, despite it being explicitly driven by socialism, because it doesn’t explicitly call for the end of capitalism. It is a project to bring together all socialist groups rather than have the many splintered terrain we have at the moment and try and gain traction in the current system we now have.

        My question for those who dismiss this is to ask, short of outright nationwide revolution, how would you practically end capitalism?

        1. Thanks for your comment, Bob. The problem with the Transform project is precisely that it is NOT explicitly driven by socialism. That is the main thrust of my article. The introductory call and the Core Principles may mention socialism, but they do not define it. Nowhere do the people behind the project explain what they mean by socialism. What do the authors mean when they use the word? I argue that socialism cannot co-exist with capitalism. It is a new form of society that comes into being only after capitalism has been abolished. The two systems cannot co-exist.

          The combined absence of any definition of socialism together with vague formulations and the call for a redistribution of wealth and power from the elite to the people, leave only one interpretation open: the party will be a party that leaves the means of production in private hands, with labour exploited to make a profit. Even if this profit is then heavily taxed, it means that the working class is still being exploited by a small minority, who will still be vastly more wealthy that the workers they exploit. This is not socialism.

          We will only be able to end capitalism when the working class majority in society acts to end it. That will be a revolution carried out democratically. It requires a working class that is conscious of its task – i.e. the abolition of capitalism and its state. That will be its revolutionary act. It requires a party that is clear about the task.

          Vague formulations that seek to win people to a programme of reforms will never achieve socialism. A party based on this woolliness will lead only to disappointment and demoralisation.

          1. I don’t see any “practical” method of ending capitalism in your reply.

            In a capitalist society where the means of communication is controlled almost exclusively by the capitalist class, how do you get the majority of people whose daily lives are embedded in capitalism to reject it totally? How would you achieve “revolution carried out democratically” in the current system?

  2. Well, it isn’t easy, Bob – and that must be the understatement of the year! But we start from the fact that the interests of the working class CANNOT be met within capitalism, and then ask, “what is required to end capitalism?”

    A political revolution, in which the working class takes political control of the state, and an economic revolution, in which the working class takes shared ownership of the means of production.

    The will of the majority of people to end capitalism can be shaped, emboldened and expressed through a mixture of the ballot box, through industrial action, and through campaigns and demonstrations. Of course, you’re right that the ruling class, the state and the media will fight tooth and nail to stop this transfer of political and economic power. So it’s unlikely to proceed entirely peacefully.

    And even before that, as you say, it’s incredibly difficult in general to persuade people of the need for and the possibility of ending capitalism because the ruling class control the media, schools etc.

    But the thing is … and this has been shown historically over and over again … working class consciousness can change very quickly in certain situations. Look at Russia in 1917, look at the growing militancy of the working class across Europe during the last few years of WWII and after, look at the miners’ strike, and even look at the revival in militancy, and appetite for strikes, amongst workers in recent years (often, despite the leadership of the union bureaucrats, and despite the need to meet anti-union balloting laws).

    But equally, history shows the need for a strong political voice – a mass workers’ party – that rejects the illusions of reformism, that explains the necessity of ending capitalism, and that is able to interpret each situation the class faces, and point the way forward at each step. We are most definitely not that party … but we are united in believing in the necessity to build such a party. And in the need for that party to operate democratically, from beginning to end, without cliques and sects.

    1. I think what you’re saying is, things will have to get so bad in this country that the masses will rise up and overthrow the ruling class and capitalism itself. I’m sorry but I just can’t picture that happening and meanwhile people are suffering more and more under neoliberalism. And even if that miraculously happened, what about the US, France and all the other capitalist economies, could we actually survive if they did not end capitalism also? In this country, we need to Transform Politics and actually implement the practical policies that will help the people that are suffering.

      1. Things are very bad now, and they will get much worse. Including under a Labour government. That is why we need a party and a mass movement to overthrow this whole system, not just tinker with it. Whether the hurt that people are feeling drives them to draw the necessary conclusion about the need to overthrow capitalism depends largely upon the success of a new mass socialist party – how much of a impression it makes, how well it takes up working-class struggles. But, yes, that is what is needed. If it doesn’t happen, we are not going back to the 1960s and 70s, as you seem to suggest, but to the 1920s and 30s. [And, the 60s and 70s weren’t that great!]
        It is not just neoliberalism that is the problem, it is capitalism in all its manifestations. Neoliberalism is just the latest phase of capitalism – driven by a crisis of profitability, which has led the capitalist class to demand (successfully) that reforms of the post-World War II period are withdrawn, through privatisation and cuts, a curtailment of the welfare state in all its aspects. Both Labour and Conservative governments have carried out neoliberal policies. These attacks are driven by the crisis of capitalism. Any government which fails to confront and break with capitalism will be forced by the demands of the ‘market’ to carry out similar policies, whether they like it or not.
        What ‘practical policies that will help the people that are suffering’ do you advocate? Who will implement them, and how will they be paid for? Do you think that the capitalist class will roll over and allow their profits to be undermined? A left-wing government will either have to break with the system, or carry out its demands. How do you reconcile the exploitation of workers for profit with your demand for ‘practical policies’ in the interests of the working class?

        1. Believe me, I would love capitalism to be overthrown but, as I said before, I don’t see any way of doing it practically.
          Where would I shop for food? What would happen to my property and the mortgage I have been paying off for years. How would I be able to watch film and TV? How would I go on holiday? It just doesn’t seem doable and I haven’t seen anybody give any detail on how it could be done. So for the time being we must do all we can to help the people who are suffering NOW.

          1. I am somewhat bemused by your questions. We have millions in the UK surviving on food banks. Many millions in other countries go hungry every day. That is capitalism for you, not socialism. We have inflation and a cost of living crisis, pushing up interest rates and therefore the costs of mortgages. Rented accommodation is costing more. That’s capitalism for you, not socialism. Why do you think socialism would prevent you from shopping, getting the things you need, or going on holiday? Millions today under capitalism are too poor to go on holiday or to afford the basic necessities of life. And I’m talking about the fifth biggest capitalist economy in the world. Other places have it even worse. So my question to you is what ‘practical policies’ in the interests of those who can’t pay their bills do you propose now.
            You also have a strange concept of socialism. I see nothing socialist in the material about Transform Politics. You seem to think that it can co-exist with capitalism. The two systems are completely incompatible. Leaving capitalism in place means a continuation of the battle between the owners of capital and the sellers of their labour power (workers). Don’t you think it would be a good idea to end that?

      2. OK – it’s good to be clear, and it looks from what you’re saying that the purpose of Transform is to achieve reforms, rather than to change the system. (TBH, it’s a bit ambiguous in the public statements.) it is tempting to take that approach because, superficially, it seems easier and more pragmatic. If only we had a party that did what the LP should have done, and what Corbyn tried to do!

        Trouble is , any labourist reformist party will be subject to all the same pressures and compromises as the LP has been, especially should it become a mass party, especially if it wins the support of the trade union bureaucrats, and especially the closer it gets to power. It will just end up the same as the LP, or rather perhaps what the LP has been during the century of its existence, rather than where Starmer wants to take it.

        I don’t want to build a new, Mark II LP – the current one has not serviced us well. Of course, were Transform to become a mass party with TU involvement and backing, I’d want to engage with and work with its members, just as most of us have in the LP. But it wouldn’t be a socialist party. And there are too few socialists around right now to throw ourselves into building a party that, in so far it’s successful, will just bolster up capitalism.

        1. I don’t think you have really got what Transform is about, it certainly wouldn’t be Labour Party Mark II and we would have properly democratic structures in place which would mean it could not be corrupted by big money or nefarious individuals, unlike the Labour Party. All members are signed up to the ideals as portrayed on the website which are totally socialist and all the people behind it are socialists as well. If we can get enough traction we hope to get trade unions on board but without any external pressure, they ain’t shifting from the Labour Party.

  3. How do we avoid Transform just becoming another tiny left-wing groupscule with minimum effect on the working class and little of a challenge to capitalism as has been the case on the revolutionary left for decades. Partly that is to do with sectarianism but also a failure to understand that the working class has to a large extent bought in to consumer capitalism and the Society of the Spectacle. If we obsess about defining the new party as socialist/communist all we will do is attract already existing parties on the left hence a rehash of already failed attempts at this kind of coalition. We need to appeal to new people as well as those who are politically committed to revolutioanry change with a vision of the future that challenges capitalist consumerism. Yes, we need the hard-edged political policies that will directly chalelnge and bring about the downfall of capitalism but it is not entirely stupid to avoid the worn out, jargonised left wing language of the past that makes it look as though we are indeed going to be another vesion of the Socialist Alliance.

    Thankfully Transorm are dtermined to avoid the Cult or Personality approach as in Galloway or Corbin or even Scargill.

    Let’s not forget Transform is a political party in the making. It would be wrong for those involved in it to have a fully worked out (hence centralist) set of policies to present to people as a fait accompli. They are laudably democratic in their approach and the basic policies they aready present look promising. We should join them and not stand aloof because they do not have every dotted ‘I’ and crossed ‘T’ of revolutionary socialist politics in place. That may come but hopefully it will not all degenerate into sectarian backbiting.

    1. “the working class has to a large extent bought in to consumer capitalism”

      This statement is interesting because it throws up a fistful of questions.

      Primarily, what does it mean that the working class has brought into consumer capitalism?

      Does it mean that the abundance of goods available to many millions is a step forwards and that what the market can’t solve, in sharing this abundance with all, can be solved by communism?

      Or, does it mean that the working class is unable to understand its own position and the reality of capitalism so therefore we should speak down to workers like benevolent council bureaucrats or church vicars?

      I would suggest that we start from the position our class knows the odds are stacked against us, know austerity and profiteering is undermining our living conditions. Then the arguments we need to make are around how to supersede a society where plenty is afforded to few globally to a world of plenty for all. That requires us to tell the truth and to speak clearly about what such a future is called and how we as a class can achieve it. That future is called communism.

  4. What is needed is not a New Party with its own rules but an informal grouping to which existing Left bodies and people of good will generally can subscribe. Excellent examples in the past have been the Rock Against Racism movement and the Anti-Nazi League, initiated by the SWP but endorsed by People of Good Will from a variety of backgrounds. Above all, the enterprise requires a committed, charismatic and inspirational co-ordinator – a role for which Jeremy Corbyn is particularly suited. The immediate rallying point shd be the NHS, which is currently under threat from both major parties.

    1. Hi Brian, I have to disagree with you. Good initiatives as they were, both Rock Against Racism and the ANL were single-issue campaigns, without a broader political perspective. You mention the SWP. That was and is a political party. Yet you say that we don’t need one now. We need a party that will present and argue before the working class and ‘people of good will’ as you put it, the ideas of socialism and win support by doing that boldly, confidently and persistently, taking up issues of racism and fighting fascism as part of that.

      It is not enough to have a loose, informal and transient grouping. We need one big, socialist movement, organised into one powerful and permanent party, marching together and acting together to change society.

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