“A few months ago I attended a meeting of a group of independent socialists in London and wrote an article for them…’Why we need a new mass socialist party.’ Here is the text of the article that several people have requested.
The public services, the welfare state, our jobs, indeed our very way of life is now under constant attack because the capitalists have launched a class war against us. There can be little doubt that the ruling class are determined to make us pay for the crisis in their system.
In response to this – and to defend our interests – the creation of a mass socialist party is a necessity. But what kind of party is needed in Britain today? Who would be interested in joining it?
Clearly the Labour Party is no solution. Where-ever one stands on the ‘it used to be/never was a socialist party’ debate (and the author is in the latter), it must be stated that this party is now firmly wedded into the capitalist system. The previous thirteen years of Labour government (1997-2010) must surely have removed any remaining illusions in this pro-imperialist party.
On the British left – in these circumstances – we often hear the call for a creation of a party built along the lines of the Bolshevik model – the success of 1917 is always held up as an example to follow. They won the revolution – so the argument follows – so that’s what we should – and need to do here. But why we rightly laud the achievements and success of 1917 – do we really need to transplant the Bolshevik model from almost a hundred years ago in a totally different cultural, political and socio-economic background? They operated in a dictatorship, and mostly underground, and in secret, developed a conspiratorial, top-down leadership that, while successful under the tsarist tyranny, would be described as undemocratic in comparison by western ideals. This type of party organisation – with its authoritarian leadership – necessary perhaps to function under the yoke of the Tsar – would have serious repercussions for Soviet democracy in later decades.
By 1991, the USSR collapsed; among its consequences was the discrediting of the Nomenklatura which had caused the ossification and stagnation of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Leninist model and party structure – with its lack of real democracy – had had its day. Its main rival, Trotskyism, with its all-or-nothing mentality, its endless supply of fourth internationals and its congenital splitting and re-splitting, is also no alternative. That particular trend, as Eric Hobsbawn reminds us, is “A horse that had failed to even get out of the stable.” And while not advocating a revision of socialist ideology – it is strongly advised that, in creating our party, we need to reject the failed mentality, practices and structures from the old British Left; which, in the main, have been a monumental failure.
Now, in 2013, we face attacks on our living standards on an unprecedented scale – threatening to destroy every gain our class has made since the Second World War. And what do we currently have on the left? Where is our mass socialist party? As yet it does not exist. We have between 30-40 small isolated radical groups with little or no connection, or that strike any resonance, with the working class. The way many of these groups operate is little different from religious sects, their mentality, and the way they operate only serves to alienate many working people from socialist ideas and activity. In any event, these groups – due to their inbred extreme sectarianism, spend most of their energy fighting among themselves – and the fact that we have gathered together as independent socialists – means that we have already rejected the prospect of joining these groups en masse.
There are, however, many decent, committed activists who are still members of the above groups – some labour away in them due to the lack of an alternative and many would like the opportunity of joining a larger body, a serious socialist organisation – comprised of serious people – with a much wider base and mass appeal.
There are hundreds of thousands of people – perhaps well over a million – that stand to the left of Labour but are not members of that or any group. These people would consider themselves broadly socialist or progressive but would not join the Labour Party or the existing myriad groups to the left. They would have perhaps already attended one or two demonstrations – locally or nationally – and perhaps been active in a local campaign group.
Finally, there is another stratum of the population. And, it could be argued, that these could potentially be the most numerous in the coming months or years to come depending on the performance of the economy; that of those who do not currently call themselves socialist or political at all – but – due to the extent, degree and vicious nature of the cuts – are finding themselves increasingly at odds with the capitalist system. They are the ones who, ten years ago, would be telling political activists, that ‘politics has got nothing to do with me.’ Now this stratum see their jobs going, or under threat, they see their public services being cut, they are being told by labour councils that ‘you can have a local hospital or library –which is it to be?’ They see many aspects of their existence – so important to their quality of life being eroded or taken away. Many will be struggling to pay their mortgages. Now, these people will almost have never before been a member of any group, never attended a march or demonstration, but their increasing anger and frustration, and dare I use the word, alienation, would mean they increasingly become disaffected with the present system. It is this stratum,in particular, that would become very angry and demand action and solutions to their growing predicament because of their previous belief in the system to take care of them. At that point it will be imperative the Left provide the alternative to the system that they seek; a socialist party; if not – the extreme Right will gladly do it for many of them.
The recent victory of the Respect Party in Bradford is a positive sign – and evidence that people can break with labour (Irrespective of what one thinks of George Galloway and his organisation). This result clearly demonstrates that there is a potential for socialist ideas and a vacuum waiting to be filled – that there is an opportunity to create a mass socialist party and a receptive social base that will embrace it.
This is where the current activists come in – and the recognition of the hard work ahead. We need to build a socialist party that attracts millions of people to combat the capitalist counter offensive. We need a party that will defend our interests and begin the process of educating people about the prospect of a better society. We need, absolutely, to produce something new, and most importantly, something appealing and relevant to people’s lives.