Alan Thornett explains why any new party of the left must have democracy and ecology at its core. This is partly in response to the article on Left Unity’s site by Tom Walker ‘Just how left wing is the Green Party?’
Ken Loach’s call for a new party of the left around the launch of The Spirit of 45’ is a great move. It could not have come at a better time, and Left Unity has done well to take it up so strongly. It is an appeal for unity at a time when unity both against austerity and as a political response could hardly be more important.
There remains a desperate need for working class representation with the rightward march of Labour and there is an increasing need for a political dimension to the struggle against austerity that can provide an alternative vision for the future alongside opposition to the cuts.
Ken’s call has created a new opportunity for the left to break out of the impasse in this regard which has existed since the failure of previous broad projects and since Respect’s breakthrough in Bradford was squandered by George Galloway. With three thousand replies (and rising) to the appeal within a few days a discussion has opened up as to how and when a new party can/or should be launched and what its political character should be.
I want to raise some issues which, which, in my view, recent experience has shown to be particularly important.
The first is that it should also be a class struggle based, anti-austerity, party with a vision of different society and it should strive to win influence in the trade unions.
The second is that any new organisation should be a party (rather than a federal structure like TUSC) and it should have completely democratic internal structures. Experience shows that people/activists will not commit themselves to such a party unless they feel that they have a genuine say, expressed in a vote where necessary, in the policies and direction of such a party—and why should they?
A new party therefore must be a genuinely democratic and pluralist organisation. It should be a membership-based organisation with supporting organisations affiliated to it and functioning inside it—Syriza could be a rough model for this, though its history and circumstances are very different.
Such a party must be accessible to women members, taking their needs and concerns seriously and ensuring that they have an autonomous space in the organisation though which to organise if they so wish. It needs to value the contribution of feminism and take a strong stance against violence in the labour movement.
Crucially it must have active branches which exist on the ground and which function between elections. It has to have an internal life to which its members can relate. Organisations which affiliate to it must, unlike in the past with the Socialist Alliance and Respect, function through it for campaigning purposes and accept the authority of its decision making processes.
At the electoral level experience has repeatedly shown that unless a candidate has a known record, or is high profile as a former MP for example, to which voters can quickly relate, parachuting candidates, even very good candidates, into constituencies just prior to elections and disappearing again afterwards is a road to nowhere.
This approach is discrediting the left. It leaves Labour unchallenged and the left floundering around with no credible vehicle to mount a challenge when an election comes around. This is particularly the case under the electoral conditions in Britain with the scandalous FPTP election system which makes it difficult to vote for alternative candidates.
Thirdly such a party, in my view, must have a serious commitment to ecology and to climate change.
We are facing a world crisis which is a dual crisis of the ecology as well as the economy of the planet. Yet the environment has slipped further down the list of priorities of the left in recent years – even where it was there in the first place. It was a weak aspect of the politics of Respect from the outset and it is a weak part of the platform and practice of TUSC today. It would be a big mistake if a new party, if it emerges from this opportunity, did not make a break with this trend.
We have a coalition government which is demolishing any meagre environmental measures which might exist before our eyes. They are promoting the dash for gas and the rise of fracking and they have just given the go-ahead for a new nuclear power station.
Climate change driven by human activity is threatening a catastrophe of unknown proportions. Carbon emissions are increasing and global warming is accelerating. Weather patterns because more chaotic. The polar ice is melting, the seas are rising, the glaciers are retreating and the deserts are expanding. Extreme weather events (droughts, storms, floods) are becoming far more common. We are approaching a tipping point where which could take these changes beyond human control.
What is posed today is not just socialism but ecosocialism. This is a declaration that the ecological issues are not just an add-on to an existing list of priorities but are central to the priorities of the left. It is a signal that we reject the capitalist logic of insatiable growth and look towards production for need and not profit.
This is also important because a new party will have to define itself politically under conditions where the Green Party—which is not going to go away as a party of the left despite the disastrous decisions taken in Brighton to support a cuts budget—already exists. What has given the Green Party under Caroline Lucas and now under Natalie Bennett (neither of whom supported the decisions taken in Brighton) its radical edge is that they have sought with some success to move it to a position where it supports social justice with equal weight to ecological justice.
Any new party which might come out of this Ken Loach/Left Unity initiative is going to have to deal with the Green Party in terms of the constituencies it chooses to fight and it is going to have to compete with it as another party of the left where this is not possible.