The New European Left
This is an edited version of the speech given by Kate Hudson at a recent meeting on New Left Parties organised by Socialist Resistance. You can watch the video here.
What we are addressing here today is a crucial subject for the left. The great regret for all of us is that the debate is taking place in different arenas and I hope this meeting will be part of the process whereby ultimately we will all be together working out the way forward for the working class movement in Britain.
Events in Europe offer us great inspiration. The struggle In Greece that SYRIZA has been engaged in has been mentioned and the incredible support that this coalition, now party, has been able to build. Most people in Britain may have heard of SYRIZA, may be aware of the struggles taking place in Greece, Spain and Portugal, but they may not understand that the political expression of those struggles like SYRIZA and like the Bloco for example in Portugal and Izquierda Unida in Spain is the result of a development that has been taking place in those countries over many years.
SYRIZA hasn’t popped out of the air just recently. Comrades in Greece from across the left have been taking political steps over the last two decades to forge a political entity which will actually give political expression to the needs of the Greek people.
We maybe at a low ebb here in Britain but SYRIZA, just a few months ago, was also at a very low point, maybe at 2-3% in terms of popular support. Yet they had the politics, the organisation and the vision to meet the people’s needs.
So I just want to say a few things about how I see the new European left trend that has developed over the last couple of decades. If I am allowed to, I will give a plug for a book I have written on this subject called The New European left: a Socialism for the 21st century. I have researched the evolution of the European left over the last 20 years and I talk in the book about SYRIZA, about the Front de Gauche and the kinds of political developments that have taken place in France, about Die Linke in Germany, the Bloco in Portugal and so on.
Communists and Trotskyists
Particularly significant for me is the way in which the parties and the movements in Europe have managed to come together and work together, sinking traditional differences. In many countries in Europe, the new European left parties have brought communists and Trotskyists into the same organisation and other new left political elements. And in some places, where those parties have been the most successful, they have even brought left Social Democrats into the same political framework with the more radical and revolutionary left forces. I think this is the kind of example that we need to build on here in Britain.
I would just like to read one quote from the book that I think really sets out the framework we need. It is from Lothar Bisky, chair in 1995 of the German PDS, the party which became Die Linke more recently. He said:
“Together we want to tap and use the ideas of communists such as Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Nikolai Bukharin, the old Leon Trotsky or Antonio Gramsci. It is undisputed that we commemorate these communists who were persecuted and killed by the fascists. Yet it is also our duty to honour those who were killed by Stalin.”
So a party that originated in the Socialist Unity Party in East Germany came to the conclusion that communists and Trotskyists could work together, and subsequently they amalgamated from a left split from the SPD. This shows the kind of vision that it is possible for the left to have.
This is all the more necessary because all across Europe the traditional social democratic parties have been moving to the right and vacating the space which they traditionally occupied, the redistributive welfare state space; the space which advanced the working class through the provision of universal health care, education, pensions and occasionally full employment. The social democratic parties have vacated that space and have embraced neoliberalism. So that political space exists and it is that space that has been filled by SYRIZA, Front de Gauche, Die Linke and so on.
But here in Britain, although that political space is large because of the rightward move of the Labour Party, as yet we still have no party or movement that adequately fills it. Two months ago, launching my book at the Left Politics in the Age of Austerity meeting hosted by the Respect party in London, I identified Respect as the party which could perhaps be the vehicle in Britain for filling that space.
It was just after the Bradford West by-election where George Galloway had such a stunning victory. That victory, for me, was based on the fact that there was a massive swing to the left, a massive rejection of the Labour Party, its corruption and its rotten values particularly in that constituency. It was an anti-austerity, anti-imperialism vote and anti-war vote. The people of Bradford were opting for a political choice which they felt expressed their own views and that is why so many voters chose Respect in Bradford and why many people joined Respect at that time.
Some of you may be aware that I subsequently accepted the nomination to stand as the Respect Party candidate in Manchester Central because I wanted to argue for those politics in that particular constituency. The interesting thing, during that short lived campaign, was how clear it was to me on the doorstep in Manchester Central that those politics of anti-war, anti-austerity and anti-imperialism were in massive popular demand, whatever subsequently happened to the campaign.
Manchester Central was a constituency with the lowest turnout in Britain even though it has an over 50% Labour majority. In some working class wards the turnout was only about 18%. So when presented with a political alternative which met their needs and addressed their concerns those people were prepared to come out and vote for it.
I should also say that there was an emergence of a kind of wider-than-Respect support in the progressive left movement. The Greens had decided not to put up a candidate, the Socialist Workers Party was going to back me in that constituency and other left organisations too were coming on board. It shows how people in Britain are ready to vote for a clear left alternative, and sections of the left are actually willing to come together and sink their differences if they think it is possible to have a good turnout and a good case is made for the politics we all share.
Unfortunately I did stand down from being the parliamentary candidate because of what I considered to be unacceptable comments about rape made by the party’s only MP, George Galloway. Given that he refused to apologise, I was not prepared to appear to condone his views by continuing to stand as a Respect Party candidate.In a sense I regret that as those politics are not now being presented to the electorate in Manchester Central. Nevertheless, the demand for them remains. And I do believe that the needs of the working people, the unemployed and everybody there have to be expressed through a political party at this time.
We can build a broad movement, we can build the coalition of resistance and there are many movements and many single issue campaigns. But I believe that we need to have a party formation in which we can all participate to take that forward and I hope that we will all be able to work towards that end.