England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

What sort of new left party do we need?

Neither the Tories nor Labour represent the interests of working class people. We need a new left party of struggle that we can use to genuinely fight for our interests. But what would that look like? And how can we build it? 

Editorial from Issue 44 of Socialist Alternative newspaper

Though we can’t exactly predict the date of the election yet, we do know one thing: the Tories are going to receive the worst vote they have received in a long time, potentially in all history. Opinion polls in recent weeks have put their numbers as low as 18%. However, they still remain toxic and dangerous.

Knowing his party has nothing to offer working class people, Sunak continues to double down on a mixture of reactionary attacks and scapegoating. From Tory donor Frank Hester’s vile racist attacks on Diane Abbott, to Gove’s recent announcement of a new definition of ‘extremism’ which would be applied to hundreds of thousands of Gaza protesters, the Tories and their co-thinkers in Reform UK represent an extremely dangerous mixture. 

Socialists share the desire to punish the Tories and see them out for the first time in almost a generation. But this does not mean Labour provides a real alternative. In early March, speaking to an audience of 400 multi-millionaires and billionaires at a private meeting in South London, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves declared: “Labour is now the party of economic responsibility”; announcing a cap on corporation tax, along with further tax breaks on big business. She may as well have shouted “Labour is now the party of the super-rich!”

Starmer and co have also lined up behind US imperialism in their support for the Israeli state’s genocidal war on Gaza. He is gearing up to be another Prime Minister who toes the line of the system, supporting imperialist wars, anti-worker attacks and austerity in office.

This is why the mass movements currently under way and those set to come about will need a political expression. The pro-capitalist, pro-war politicians will need to be challenged politically – by organising around anti-war and socialist policies, to provide a much-needed political left alternative to what is currently on offer. 

First steps

The result of the Rochdale by-election, which delivered a sizeable majority for George Galloway shows, in an early and rudimentary form, the desire for an alternative. However, a viable left alternative would most likely be harmed by the presence of an individual like George Galloway. Galloway is an unprincipled opportunist, who in his campaign took on elements of a divisive, reactionary and right-wing approach. 

Disgracefully, this included delivering leaflets into doors saying, among other things: “I believe in family. I am a father of six children, five of them still at school. And I don’t like some of the things they are teaching our children. I believe in men and women. God created everything in pairs. Unlike the mainstream parties I have no difficulty in defining what a woman is”. This letter ended with the Trump-esque call to “MAKE ROCHDALE GREAT AGAIN”. 

A genuine new left party will have to be actively involved in struggles of all the oppressed as part of building the strongest possible united working class movement. This includes the fight to defend trans rights and to access free, safe and fully legal abortion on demand.

A new reference point that shows potential for a new party to take shape is in the new We Demand Better. Launched by Owen Jones after his resignation from Labour on March 20, Jones correctly denounced the horrific politics of Starmer when he said: “We all have political red lines: mine is supporting what would amount to war crimes against innocent civilians, toddlers and newborn babies among them, then gaslighting the public over doing so.”

He has also pointed out how “if the left doesn’t band together, the only pressure on Labour will come from the migrant-bashing, rich-worshipping right”. This is a significant step in the right direction for Jones to take. However, for this new initiative to really maximise its potential, it will have to move beyond acting as a pressure group on Labour. Endorsing a limited selection of Greens (who are often not as ‘left’ as they present themselves as) and independents will also not be enough. 

However, where there are independent, left-wing challenges in the election, this could serve as an opportunity to mobilise the forces needed. Corbyn, who has unfortunately remained silent on the question of a new party for far too long, could still play an important role in galvanising hundreds of thousands. A mass mobilisation to defend Corbyn’s seat could lay the basis for the founding of a new party. 

A party of class struggle

A new left party would need to be, first and foremost, combative and rooted in class struggle. Rather than focussing just on elections, it must be rooted in and accountable to a movement of working class people outside of parliament. It would need to be active in building community campaigns to resist cuts, leading protests against institutional racism and misogyny in the police, against transphobia, supporting workers fighting for their livelihoods on the picket lines, and so on.

It would have to be genuinely democratic – with decisions made by elected bodies and conferences of rank-and-file members, open to anyone who agrees with its programme, and with right to affiliation for all genuine left and socialist forces. All of this would mean it being a party not just for working class people, but by and of us.

Coming into and after the general election, what is needed is a space for democratic discussion on how to build the political alternative we need. Socialist Alternative supports calling conferences of resistance, drawing together trade unionists, Palestine solidarity and climate activists, and all those wanting to build a fightback for socialist policies against Labour under one roof. It could discuss the focus, programme and campaigning priorities of a new party.

As soon as possible, discussions need to take place in the trade unions on the need for political organisation, including the future of the ‘Labour link’ which often means millions of pounds being siphoned away, with almost zero in return for union members. 

Any new left party would immediately come under tremendous pressure to water its programme down. Internationally, many new left parties have been attempted, and many have capitulated to the ‘lesser evilist’ pressure from the establishment not to stand independently of the main capitalist parties. This is based on the idea that it is supposedly not practical and would only allow the right-wing to gain, thus they should just give up and support the ‘less evil’ of the capitalist political parties already on offer. 

But as the reemergence of Trump as frontrunner in the US presidential election shows, if the left fails to make a full, clean break with the corporate parties with an independent socialist programme, this can even create the space for further growth of the far-right. 

However if these lessons are taken on board, a new left party of struggle could have the potential to transform the situation in Britain. At the very least, it could act as a space for us to fight back and organise around demands, including to stop arming the Israeli state, and to build mass resistance to all war and imperialism and stand in solidarity with the struggle for Palestinian liberation. It could also organise for renationalising rail, mail and energy, for massive taxes on the rich and an end to all anti-union laws, as well as an end to the racist scapegoating of refugees.

We think it would also have to fight to nationalise the banks and big corporations, as part of a struggle to break with capitalism, which is based on profit over need, and replace it with a socialist system, based on democratic control, planning, solidarity and lasting equality for all. Join us in that fight!

 

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