Hilary Wainwright had an interesting piece on the Comment is Free section of yesterdays Guardian, in which she asked what could be learnt from the recent split in the Respect Party, I thought on the day the two waring factions within the Respect Party hold their inaugural conferences, I would peruse some of the points she raised, as none of us on the left should be pleased with what has happened to the Respect Party, not least because if it implodes those working class people in places like east-London, Birmingham and Preston, who Hilary mentions in her article, would be left without any decent political representation.*
Despite the fact that many members of the Respect Party put their heart and soul into building it, Respect became a victim of its top down politics, whether it be the great leader syndrome as represented by George Galloway or the Vanguard politics of the SWP. Sadly a section of the non Labour Party left continues to display an almost mechanical adulation of every thing Lenin did and wrote and have still to come to terms with the fact that we workers are never going to give up on bourgeois democracy, despite all its faults and failures, when all that is on offer is Dictatorship, even one that has the word proletariat thrown in as sweetener. We are looking to expand democracy not retract it; indeed bar the invasion of Iraq the Labour Governments greatest mistake has been to whittle away at our hard won civil rights on the pretext of fighting terrorism.
Never forget it is in the main working class people who feel the backlash of these draconian anti-terror laws, we learnt this lesson the hard way after the Prevention of Terrorism Act was introduced in the mid 1970s and working class Irish people living in the UK were targeted under the new act. The only difference the introduction of these new anti-terror laws will make this time around is it will be working class muslims who will feel the backlash.
What is needed in England and Wales is a Left Reformist Party which would have space within it for those like the SWP who advocate revolutionary change, but it must be as individual party members whose first political loyalty would be to the Left Party, not some outside party or political sect.
Hilary Wainwright seems to be saying that any new Left Party should be a loose federation of left groups like the SWP, Socialist Party, CPB, the remnants of Respect, former members of the LP and individual independent socialists. But the fact is this has been tried with the Socialist Alliance and Respect and failed dismally. A new Left Party is undoubtedly needed here, but few outside the sects are now willing to repeat their experiences in Respect or the Socialist Alliance, if a new Left Party is to emerge it must be based on individual membership, and it must have a democratic constitution that gives all members the same democratic rights.
If we go down the road of Slate leadership lists etc, the likes of the SWP will as in the past simply manipulate them for their own ends; and pull the plug when the Left Party no longer serves their best interest. Some will claim that without Slate lists for leadership positions then the largest political grouping within it will dominate any new party. There are two arguments I would make in reply to that point, firstly what Slate lists do is enable a Party like the SWP to manipulate from behind the scenes as they did in Respect and the SA, when we saw resolution after resolution of the SWP central committee become Respect Party/SA policy.
Secondly, yes perhaps an organized group might try and manipulate the new party, indeed in all likelihood they will, but under the democratic norms such as Left Party members agreeing to belong to no other political party, if any single faction attempted to manipulate the new party, they would have to do it out in the open and not in smoke filled rooms or from within the governing body of an outside organization. Thus there wretched behavior would be out in the open for all to see and challenge, they would be unable to deny they were involved in any underhand political maneuvering such as pushing for an independent gofer to be included on a slate list etc. Far from fearing democratic accountability as many on the left sadly still appear to, we should be encouraging it as it is a great leveler.
In the comment section in reply to Hilary’s article some have claimed the Green Party is already the New Left Party. They are mistaken, for all it’s attributes the Green Party will never be an attractive alternative for working class people for two reasons. It reeks of middle classness [I am not being critical here just stating a fact] and its record in government in Germany and the south of Ireland leaves a lot to be desired. It seems once in office as far as demands that would benefit the working classes are concerned, it is prepared to trim its sail’s. Some even suggested that if Peter Tatchel has become a Green Party member it is good enough for them.
Despite Peter having many admirable characteristics, in my view this is simply repeating the mistakes that some people did when they followed George Galloway into Respect, and a few years earlier Arthur Scargil into the Socialist Labour Party. Of course all political parties need leaders, but by themselves they cannot create a successful party and in any case this great leader syndrome is one of the reason the Respect Party appears to have failed. Ideally our aim in creating a new Left Party, would be so that new leaders could emerge from within its ranks and hopefully they would come from within the working classes and to its credit the Respect Party has had some success in developing political activists from within the working class, although unfortunately when some comrades realized that they all did not walk about waving a red flag, they became judgmental if not hysterical.
We should also not forget that once members of the Respect Party, apparently at the insistence of the SWP leadership, agreed to drop their demand that all members of Respect who were elected to paid public office should only draw the average UK wage as their salary, they created a gulf between their elected officials and those they represented, in other words by this act they allowed the bourgeoisie to set the new party’s moral agenda by it aping the way that Westminister MPs enrich themselves.
Myself I still look to the trade Unions, or rather a section of them to become the midwives of any new Left Party, as they are the only organization in the country which still has the confidence of a sizable section of working class people, although the CNWP is a start on what will undoubtedly continue to be a very rocky road before we finally establish a new Left Party in England and Wales.