For ten years, the Socialist Party has raised the need for a new party of the working class. With each step further to the right by Blair’s New Labour, that need has become more pressing. This year’s Labour conference – its anti-union stance and total rejection of democratic decision-making – reinforced that view. PETER TAAFFE explains the reasoning behind a new Socialist Party initiative.
Towards a new workers’ party
New Labour's 2005 conference signified another, and perhaps decisive, nail in the coffin of this party as a specifically working-class party, at least at its base.
Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party
This had been preceded by the Gate Gourmet strike, with gangster-type employers getting away with sacking low-paid workers, using Margaret Thatcher’s vicious anti-union laws, which have been kept in place by Tony Blair’s government. The Iraq disaster is also decisively rejected by the British people, with 51% demanding a withdrawal of British troops. This is against the background of the accelerating privatisation of the National Health Service (NHS), massive opposition from teachers and parents to the setting up of academy schools, and a threat of strike action from public service workers against proposals to ‘extend’ the retirement age.
The whole situation with regard to the moribund and increasingly discredited ‘New Labour’ party leads to one conclusion: it is urgent that all genuine labour movement and socialist leaders and activists immediately take steps to form the basis of a new mass workers’ organisation.
The Socialist Party concluded some time ago that the Blairite counter-revolution against the socialist aspirations and internal democracy of the party had transformed it into a British version of the Democrats in the US, another pro-big business, capitalist party. Moreover, there is a wide recognition amongst the ranks of the propertied classes that New Labour is the most effective guardian of their interests: “So far, so good. Within reason, we have a business friendly government”, said Christopher Beale, chairperson of the Institute of Directors, quoted in The Financial Times.
A significant body of working-class and socialist opinion has shared our analysis. Unfortunately, this is not true of the majority of trade union leaders who, along with the left-wing Campaign Group of MPs and others, cling to the brave hope that if not socialism at least ‘social democracy’ will be resurrected from the ashes. That perspective suffered a devastating blow at the conference in Brighton, which was presided over by Blair and Gordon Brown wielding a neo-liberal club to crush any lingering hopes for a genuine swing towards the left within the party. So demoralised are the local constituency Labour Parties that one third did not even bother to spend the £500 necessary to send a delegate. This did not stop 15,000 journalists and other media riffraff, big-business lobbyists, place seekers and others from attending what has become a pro-capitalist junket.
The total disconnection of the Labour Party tops from the working class was highlighted by the disgraceful ejection of the 82-year-old refugee from Nazi Germany, Walter Wolfgang, for daring to shout out ‘Nonsense!’ at Jack Straw’s claim that those who opposed the Iraq war were “pro-Nazi sympathisers”.
This incident triggered an avalanche of denunciations of New Labour, its leadership and organisation. The pent-up resentment of New Labour burst out. In the 1970s and 1980s, such attacks by the media were quite common. As Labour shifted leftwards and in a socialist direction, the mouthpieces of big business routinely denounced the party. While rabid right-wing journals like the Daily Mail sought to exploit this incident in favour of the Tories, most of the criticism now came from ‘radical’ and left-wing commentators, usually self-serving apologists for Blair and Co in the past. The Daily Mirror, for instance, in an editorial (Insults are Last Straw), stated: “If there were any fascists at Labour’s conference, it was the stewards who threw out an 82-year-old man who shouted ‘Nonsense!’ at Mr Straw”. Incidentally, Walter Wolfgang interjected from the visitors’ gallery; so cowed were the ordinary delegates that not one of them joined him in his initial protest.
Twenty years to the month, the Daily Mirror cheered on Neil Kinnock in his infamous denunciation of Militant (now the Socialist Party). Paraphrasing the words used by Kinnock, who is now a millionaire: ‘You start by expelling Militants for fighting for socialism and you end up with the grotesque chaos of manhandling and ejecting an 82-year-old protester’. We warned that the process of expelling the five members of the Militant Editorial Board and the heroic Liverpool city councillors could end with the destruction of the Labour Party as a genuine working-class party. Our predictions have been borne out to a much greater extent than could have been envisaged.
Now, even former pillars of Blairism and apologists for him at every turn in the past have begun to turn on him. For instance, Polly Toynbee – once of the right-wing Social Democratic Party – stated in The Guardian: “Brighton has exposed Labour as a sham, deserted by its members… Labour is in danger of becoming a phantom party - a self-perpetuating oligarchy given absolute power by only 25% of the electorate through a perverted voting system that will, with a swing of the pendulum, deliver the same power to an equally unrepresentative Tory clique”. Brian Reade in the Daily Mirror went further: “The Labour Party conference is about as pointless as a surfboard in an ice rink”. Commenting on the end of the conference, he wondered “how to stop collapsing in hysterics when they sang the Red Flag. From mass-produced prompt cards”.
Membership of the party has officially halved from (a fictional) 400,000 in 1997 to 200,000 today, which is a gross exaggeration of the reality of the Labour Party on the ground. The police-type atmosphere which prevailed at the conference affected not just the unfortunate Walter Wolfgang but anybody who showed the slightest dissent from the leadership. Another octogenarian was audacious enough to wear a t-shirt proclaiming ‘Bush, Blair, Sharon, to be tried for war crimes, torture, human rights abuse’, and lower down, ‘The leaders of rogue states’. He was stopped and searched and, like Walter Wolfgang, was interrogated by a police officer under Section 44 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. He was forced to fill out a form and the police officer interrogated him on the grounds that he was ‘carrying a placard and t-shirt with anti-Blair info’ on it. A Guardian journalist concluded: “So now we know. For the Sussex police, at any rate, an anti-Blair slogan is grounds for suspecting terrorism”.
This underlines the organic connection between the reactionary policies of Blair and Blairism on a political level reinforcing an authoritarian grip and thuggish methods to suppress even a flicker of an internal debate in the Labour Party. Prior to the conference, resolutions and separate discussions on Iraq – ‘don’t mention the war’ – were ruled out. On the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party no recommendations were made, for the first time in its history, on how to vote on vital issues such as the legalisation of solidarity ‘secondary action’ by trade unionists.
The Gate Gourmet dispute has underlined the absolutely vital necessity to eliminate Thatcher’s anti-union laws, which prevented effective solidarity, ‘secondary action’, to ensure victory to these workers. The absence of such powers for the working class, combined with the failure of the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) leadership to organise effective solidarity action in defiance of authoritarian anti-union laws, has ensured the partial defeat at least of the Gate Gourmet workers in the aftermath of the conference. Even Roy Hattersley, no friend of militant trade union action in the past, came out in favour of lifting the restrictions on such action. But a succession of Labour ministers before, during and after the conference stated bluntly that they would not heed the call of the unions on this issue.
This is just another measure of how far to the right the Blair leadership has gone. The Independent’s Steve Richards, after the Labour and Tory party conferences, commented: “These Conservatives [David Cameron supporters] respect and admire Mr Blair far more than some of those who attended the Labour conference last week”. Tribune, the organ of the left in the Labour Party, also commented: “Mr Blair’s bravura performance won praise from some delegates as the most Thatcherite leadership speech since the Tory leader left office”. (30 September)
Labour & the unions
YET TRIBUNE TAKES some sustenance from the fact that the conference defeated Blair and his NEC on solidarity action, the NHS, housing and other issues. Ninety-nine percent of the trade union vote – which only accounts for 50% of the total votes at the conference now, down from 90% in its heyday – voted for this basic trade union principle. This should be no surprise given that a big factor in the building of the Labour Party itself at the beginning of the 20th century was precisely on an issue like this. The Taff Vale judgement, with its threats to financially punish if not completely cripple the trade unions, was important in pushing the trade unions to support its own party, the Labour Party.
It is an absolute scandal that such questions should even need to be debated in a party which some still claim represents working-class people. The resolution was won by 70% to 30% and leading trade unionists claimed they were “pleased” because a “significant section” of constituency delegates voted in favour. But 60% of these alleged ‘representatives’ of ordinary working-class people from the constituencies voted to maintain the outlawing of effective trade union action.
The history of the Labour Party is littered with examples where the leadership ignored conference decisions, even when it was a genuine working-class party at the bottom. However, on decisive issues, particularly those which directly affected the working class, the specific weight of the trade unions was sufficient to force the leadership either to back away or to be broken. In 1969, the government of Harold Wilson infamously tried to introduce the In Place of Strife anti-union laws. The opposition of the trade unions and the working class, in demonstrations but also within the labour movement and even the cabinet, meant there was a majority against Wilson, which forced him into an ignominious retreat.
On the other hand, in 1931, Ramsay MacDonald’s austerity programme of savage cuts in public expenditure came up against the rock of working-class and organised trade union resistance. MacDonald could not push this through and therefore broke with the Labour government and the labour movement, forming a national government with the Tories. Blair does not need to do this today for two reasons. This government is, to all intents and purposes, a ‘national government’, the best that the British capitalists, from their point of view, can expect at this stage. Secondly, the trade unions are effectively politically neutered while the Blairite iron grip is exercised over the party at all levels. Even the present 50% share of the vote that they possess is a target for yet further weakening. One Blairite minister after another lined up following the conference to vilify the unions and warn of further changes to the constitution.
Blair stated that, “in the old days… the constituency delegates were the kind of crazy ones and the trade unions were the force for stability”. The clear implication is that the trade unions and the working class are the new ‘crazies’ for daring to fight for their rights and conditions. In the light of this, even lefts hardly believe their own statements about the possibility of changing the Labour Party: “There was only one decisive conclusion in Brighton this week. It was that, after years of de facto truth, the Labour Party leader and the officials who serve him made it unashamedly clear – conference does not matter… This year the government, and its supine Sherpas in the party structure, not only treated trade union and constituency delegates with the customary derision of a cat with fleas, this year they openly paraded their distance from the real people who are the Labour Party”. (Chris McLaughlin, Tribune, 1 October) The forlorn hope of Tribune is that: “We can only hope that the spirit and the purpose will return”. But not for Mark Seddon, erstwhile editor of Tribune, who has voted with his feet and gone to join al-Jazeera with David Frost!
The Campaign Group, however, is determined to go beyond mere ‘spirit’. It is considering putting up a ‘stalking horse’, an alternative candidate to Blair, in the run-up to the 2006 Labour Party conference, if he is still at the helm at that time. To do this it will need the support of at least 20% of Labour MPs, 71 in total. At the moment, it claims that 36 are on board. Given the saturation of the Parliamentary Labour Party with unreconstructed Blairites, this target is problematical to say the least.
The Brown succession
EVEN IF IT is successful and a contest for the leadership is thereby triggered, what is the purpose, who is the rival to Blair that can shift Labour decisively to the left and, crucially, what will be the programme and conditions of the left for supporting an anti-Blair candidate in any election? As Tribune shows, the New Labour project is unreconstructed Thatcherism. This applies not just to Blair but to Brown too. He declared in the Sunday Times before the conference: “The programme of reform [read counter-reform - PT] and modernisation will continue when Tony steps down”. Brown wants “more home ownership, more asset ownership. He wants – some claim – to be more Thatcherite than Blair”. (Jackie Ashley, The Guardian)
The Daily Mirror, commenting on his party conference speech, declared: “In a snub to unions and old Labour, the chancellor said there would be no lurch back to the left. Instead, New Labour must ‘dominate’ the centre for years to come”. In other words, Brown, while he might soften some of Blair’s brutal language and may even back away eventually from British involvement in Iraq, in substance will carry out his programme of more privatisation, including the further dismantling of the NHS, greater PFI (privatisation) projects and the whole neo-liberal programme which has underpinned the government since 1997.
Yet some trade union leaders, such as Derek Simpson of Amicus, hailed Brown’s speech as “clever” in the hope that he is the new saviour of the trade unions: “[Brown] spoke about the renewed citizenship and equality, words we haven’t heard in a long time. That shows he has been listening to trade unions and working people. It suggests a party led by Brown would undergo evolution rather than revolution”. (The Guardian, 27 September) This is the considered judgement of a professed member of the ‘awkward squad’ who is no longer very awkward. Moreover, it is made in the teeth of evidence that shows that, on Brown’s watch as chancellor, a massive polarisation between rich and poor has taken place, poverty has worsened since 1997, and a bleak prospect for working people looms given the deterioration in the British economy under Brown’s stewardship.
In fact, the wheels have quite markedly begun to come off Brown’s economic chariot. He himself admitted in Washington that he will have to scale down his growth rates for this year and probably next year as well, with growth rates the lowest for 12 years. Retail sales are falling at the fastest rate for two decades. One in five retailers anticipates that trade will worsen over the coming months. The slowdown in house price increases has meant a decreased inclination to buy goods, reinforced by rising fuel prices, which have undermined household budgets, with the result that “people feel less well off than a year ago”. (The Independent) This journal concludes: “It is now hard to see how Britain can avoid an economic slowdown over the next two years”.
A combination of factors, not least soaring energy prices, has enhanced the prospect of a general slowdown in world capitalism. Unemployment has begun to creep up in Britain while the bosses continue to make record profits. While the immediate situation will be difficult for British workers, the medium and long term could be catastrophic. The collapse of manufacturing industry – there will be no factories in Britain by 2028 according to the TGWU – continues apace with little to put in its place, either in the production of real wealth or of jobs. The ‘sucking sound’ of jobs disappearing from Britain to China, Eastern Europe, etc, and these countries’ conditions coming to Britain in the form of cheap labour, mean that the future is bleak for British workers.
There is no possibility of arresting this development on the basis of blind faith that the Labour Party can act as an effective instrument to defend and enhance the position of working-class people. There is no realistic prospect of its transformation to fit the needs of the situation. That was underlined by, amongst many, Colin McCabe, a representative of the artistic intelligentsia who have clung to New Labour up to now. Writing in The Observer, he announced his resignation from the Labour Party following the conference after 41 years of membership. He simply said of Blair: “You lie as you breathe”. (2 October)
He was answered by Dennis McShane, the Blairite former minister: “Please think again comrade”. His defence of Blair was: “I was in France and Germany. Both countries would die to have a Tony Blair leading them out of high unemployment…” Yet only a matter of months ago the French and Dutch working classes showed in the EU constitution referendums what they thought of ‘Blairism’! The massive ‘No’ votes were as much a vote against ‘Anglo-Saxon’ neo-liberalism, symbolised above all by Blair, as against the EU constitution itself. The German working class has also seen what Thatcherism-Blairism has inflicted on British workers and want none of it.
THOSE WHO STILL cling to the faint hope that Labour can be ‘reformed’ are re-running the arguments, in a different historical context, of those adherents to the ‘Lib-Lab’ philosophy who tried to capture the Liberal Party for the working class in the latter part of the 19th century. Keir Hardie, the founder of the Labour Party, only emancipated himself from liberalism gradually. The brutal experience of the inadequacies of the Liberals convinced him to break from them and form the Scottish Labour Party in the 1880s. This was followed, in the 1890s, by the Independent Labour Party (ILP). In 1893, 120 delegates met in Bradford to form this party, which incorporated a number of different trends, including the Fabians, five delegates from the Social Democratic Federation (SDF – nominally Marxist but without the support of either Karl Marx or Friedrich Engels) and representatives of Engels himself, the continuer of Marx’s ideas in this period. Alongside them were members of the Scottish Labour Party, various local labour associations and a few trade union branches. Significantly, only the SDF at national level officially refused to join in this first step forward for political representation of the working class because it was “not revolutionary”.
The aim of the ILP was to launch a struggle for independent labour candidates but it also stood for “collective ownership and control of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. Hardie’s election as MP for West Ham and later for Merthyr Tydfil was linked to the objective change in the situation of British capitalism at that stage. It was increasingly unable to provide more than a few crumbs to the working class from the very rich table of British imperialism. While a certain ‘aristocracy of labour’ was able to maintain itself and even go forward for a time in the latter part of the 19th century, the great mass of the working class, kept on slave wages, were increasingly dissatisfied. The discontent burst out in the strikes of the match girls, gas workers and dockers, and the creation of new unions. As is well known, the socialists, particularly Eleanor Marx (Karl’s daughter), played a key role in the development of the leadership of some of these unions.
The British working class has special characteristics, sometimes only edging forward slowly and ponderously. Engels once commented on this: “One cannot drum theory into them beforehand but their own experience and their own blunders and the resulting evil consequences will blunt their noses up against theory and then all right. Independent peoples go their own way, and the English and their offspring are surely the most independent of them all. Insular, stiff-necked obstinacy annoys one often enough, but it also guarantees that what is begun will be carried out once things get started”. (11 January, 1890) Given the changing composition of the working class and its renewal, through immigration from many different sections of the working class worldwide, perhaps this is not as dominant a characteristic of the British working class today but features of this undoubtedly still exist in their outlook.
In the 1890s, it took the defeat of a strike of the miners for them to turn to the political plane and elect Hardie at Merthyr, providing him with a parliamentary seat for the rest of his life. The same empirical approach was evident in the creation of the Labour Party itself. The Taff Vale judgement by the House of Lords in favour of the railway bosses, with its swingeing financial impositions, was decisive. Up to then, many trade unions had stood aside from the idea of independent labour representation, relying on their industrial strength. This judgement posed the necessity for political action which, in 1900, (a year before Taff Vale) had brought together socialists and trade unionists in the Labour Representation Committee (LRC). Unfortunately, it led to the defection of the SDF once again because “this body was not sufficiently socialist”. There are parallels between anti-union legislation then and now, the only difference being that it is maintained by a ‘Labour’, yes a Labour government, and not an openly proclaimed capitalist one.
The process of forming the Labour Party was not neat and tidy but involved a coalition, a federation of different trends and tendencies which were gradually brought together on a national scale. For instance, the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain started a separate fund in 1901 for its own candidates, but remained tied to the Liberals for a number of years after. A similar step could be taken by trade unions and others now, alongside attempts to form a new workers’ party, faced with a similar dilemma to that of our forefathers. As the Socialist Party has often stated, for the first time in 100 years the working class in Britain has no mass political representation. It is necessary to have the same courage as the pioneers who saw the need for independent working-class representation, fought for it and organised to realise it.
Some trade union leaders have posed the necessity to emulate them. Bob Crow, leader of Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT), for instance, has courageously and consistently warned that there is no future for working-class people or socialists within the Labour Party, and a new party needs to be created. He has stated that the RMT will call a conference of trade unionists and political parties in the New Year to explore the possibilities of a new party. The Socialist Party welcomes such a step, which is the absolute minimum necessity today. The RMT has, moreover, abandoned its attempt to maintain the link with Labour at national level, which is also a significant step forward.
THE TIME FOR a new party is not only ripe, to some extent it is rotten ripe. Millions feel disenfranchised; four million who voted Labour in 1997 refused to back Blair in the last election. A crucial factor which allows the bosses to attack with success the living standards, conditions and past gains of the working class is the absence of a serious political pole of attraction, a mass party, to rally and organise opposition.
Steps towards a new party that have been attempted in the recent past – the Socialist Labour Party (SLP), the Socialist Alliance and now Respect – have failed or will fail. Arthur Scargill, a respected fighter and militant, and the SLP, were organically sectarian from the outset, excluding anybody who did not march to the political drumbeat or forms of organisation decreed unilaterally by Arthur himself. The Socialist Alliance floundered similarly on the innate sectarianism of the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) and the manoeuvring characteristic of that organisation. It refused to accept the traditional method of the British labour movement in forming new political organisations, in particular the federal principle. Respect is too narrow, based upon a section of the Muslim population alienated from New Labour, with George Galloway and the SWP in its leadership. Moreover, it also refused at its initial conference to accept the federal principle, thereby excluding many, including the Socialist Party.
This means that the wider perception of Respect, particularly outside of a layer of the Muslim population, can be that it is exclusive and is not capable of appealing to wider non-Muslim sections of the working class. This, combined with the intolerance of the SWP, despite its recent claims to the contrary, means that Respect cannot develop beyond certain limits. It could win a number of council seats, for instance in Tower Hamlets, as conceded by a secret Labour Party dossier about next year’s local elections. But this is against the background of a possible general “electoral meltdown at next May’s elections” (Tribune) for Labour in London, which will not automatically go to Respect outside of areas with a large Muslim population.
A key test for any new formation is whether it can appeal to a broader layer of trade unionists, socialists, environmentalists and others, which Respect is not capable of doing. It has fundamental weaknesses in programme (see the following article) but its Achilles heel is George Galloway and the SWP’s insistence on maintaining the narrow criteria for those who can join. The SWP, through one of its leaders, Chris Harman, speaks about the methods of his party in new formations, presumably like Respect: “This should not mean seizing every opportunity to disagree with other people”. (October 2005)
This is an example of Harman’s unconscious humour. The SWP is notorious for precisely seizing every opportunity, not just to disagree but to attempt to use undemocratic, unacceptable methods to distort and suppress other people’s points of view and right to organise for their acceptance. For instance, on the 24 September demonstration against the Iraq war it tried to get an International Socialist Resistance (ISR) meeting in Hyde Park called off on the spurious grounds that it was interfering with the main rally, whose speakers had been arbitrarily selected by the SWP and its allies. Because of their approach, Respect will not be able to find a road out of the narrow enclave into which it has been taken by George Galloway and the SWP.
A new initiative
NOTWITHSTANDING THE false starts of the past, the prospects for a new formation are good if determined and coordinated action is taken by genuine organisations and individuals on the left. To this end, the Socialist Party is prepared to initiate discussions with others, including Bob Crow, for a conference that could discuss the steps towards a new organisation which can take the struggle for a new party significantly forward.
If Bob Crow’s suggestion for a conference takes off, the Socialist Party and others on the left will undoubtedly seek to participate. To be successful, however, it must involve the widest number who are prepared to engage in this endeavour and discuss in a fraternal, democratic, as well as an open manner, the programme and the organisation best suited to such a step at this stage. Given the differences which exist between different organisations it would be a mistake to immediately set up a party. But a conference could initiate a widespread discussion which could attract not just the small layer of active left workers, but touch many more who are inactive at the moment but are looking for a fighting political party, in order to change the deteriorating situation confronting trade unionists, the environment, housing, education, etc.
If there is further foot-dragging, however, in taking this step, the Socialist Party will seek to initiate, in collaboration with others, the calling of such a consultative conference, firstly, and a heightened campaign for a new party. What programme is required at this stage has been and will be the subject of intense further discussion. Engels, speaking of the American working class 120 years ago, stated: “The first great step of importance for every country newly entering into the movement is always the constitution of the workers as an independent political party, no matter how, so long as it is a distinct workers’ party”. That is what actually happened – not, unfortunately, in the US for objective and subjective reasons – but in Europe and throughout the world in the following century, including in Britain with the formation of the Labour Party.
But the bourgeoisification of the Labour Party has brought that chapter to an end. While the working class never starts with a blank sheet, some of the same features, particularly as far as the new generation is concerned, now exist in Britain, Europe and a world scale. The formation of the WASG (Arbeit & Soziale Gerechtigkeit, Die Wahlalternative – Labour & Social Justice Party) in Germany arose because of the collapse of the traditional political workers’ organisation, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), into a capitalist formation. The fact that it developed in Germany quicker than in Britain is an expression of the suddenness, if not the depths as yet, of the neo-liberal offensive against the German working class at the hands of Gerhard Schröder’s government.
This new formation is not just a German phenomenon but has European and British implications. The development of the WASG is a manifestation of processes at work throughout Europe. Capitalism is in crisis, resorts to greater and greater neo-liberal policies, which have engendered opposition and even hatred from big sections of the working class towards those, the ex-social democrats as well as the openly capitalist parties, who are implementing these policies.
The search for an alternative can seemingly be blocked. However, inevitably, a figure – Oskar Lafontaine in Germany – can give a push to the developments waiting to happen. Before Lafontaine declared his support, the WASG was formed largely of middle-ranking trade union leaders, who have not freed themselves from social-democratic illusions, and specifically opposed socialism. It could be different in Britain. A new formation is possible if a leading left figure, like Bob Crow, steps in and provides the impetus. The Socialist Party will be working energetically for the creation of the conditions, through a campaign, that can lead to the development of a new formation.
The federal principle
CONSCIOUSNESS HAS BEEN undoubtedly thrown back, partly because of the lingering effects of the collapse of the Berlin wall and the idea of socialism and a planned economy, together with the effects of neo-liberal policies. It is therefore necessary for any new formation or party to proceed, in the first instance, with a basic programme, which can unite significant left forces, appealing above all to the new generation. In Britain, this would include: no to privatisation, an end to the war in Iraq and support for independent working-class organisations there, defence of a democratic NHS and public ownership of the pharmaceutical companies, the abolition of Thatcher’s anti-union laws, starting with the ban on solidarity secondary action, a democratic and socialist programme on the environment, and demands on housing, etc. At the same time, a socialist programme, with the aspirations clearly stated for the public ownership of the ‘commanding heights of the economy’ would be necessary.
Vitally, the form of organisation required at this stage to enhance the movement would be federal in principle. Enshrined in any new agreement or constitution would be the idea of inclusivity. Specifically, all parties and individuals must have the right, while subscribing to the basic programme and organisation, to argue for their own ideas, to produce and sell their own newspapers, and to form platforms to influence the new formation. These are just some tentative proposals of the Socialist Party in an attempt to initiate a discussion and campaign.
One writer in the Financial Times summed up the conferences of the three major parties: “There is one theme that runs through all of this autumn’s party conferences. It is the crisis of leadership”. He is right. The Liberals, under the pressure of the worldwide neo-liberal offensive, have moved to the right, embracing privatisation, the break up of the NHS, etc. Like different kinds of soap powder, the Tories and Labour Party also offer up leaders and a programme firmly rooted in capitalist society. There is a profound crisis of capitalist leadership and its institutions.
At the same time, the working class faces a similar dilemma, in some senses the worst in its history in Britain, for this is a crisis not only of leadership but also of organisation. To begin to overcome this it is necessary to urgently take steps towards the foundation of a new working-class and socialist formation. This can begin to offer leadership in all spheres, in the electoral as well as the extra-parliamentary field, in the struggle to defend and enhance working-class living standards. In the next period the Socialist Party will be working energetically to this end.
From Socialism Today, magazine of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales