Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/522/3832
Building the Campaign for a New Workers' Party
Pete McLaren, national secretary of the Socialist Alliance and press officer of the Campaign for a New Workers Party (CNWP), has written this contribution to The Socialist in response to the article by general secretary of the PCS trade union, Mark Serwotka, in issue 519.
Alongside Pete's contribution (below) is a response from Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist, the national CNWP chair person.
The need to build a new left alternative - now!
Mark Serwotka raised the vitally important question for all socialists in his interesting article headed 'How can an alternative to the main parties be developed?'. He ably explained why we need it. New Labour must now be seen as a Tory party, nothing less. So Mark comes to the conclusion that many of us made some time ago - we need a new left party.
Pete McLaren, national secretary of the Socialist Alliance and press officer of the Campaign for a New Workers Party (CNWP)
What impresses me is that Mark clearly sees that industrial struggle alone will not be enough, important as trade union support for a new initiative will be. I also think his call to campaign for proportional representation is crucial for the left to make best use of electoral opportunities, not that electoralism would be the be-all and end-all.
Equally significant is his call for left unity, with his assertion: "Our loyalty must be to our class, not our party card". As Mark concluded, what unites us is far greater than what divides us. The old 80/20.
I believe strongly that we should be building a new mass socialist organisation/party - and quickly. There may not yet be an upturn in working class political activity, but workers are increasingly realising that there is no real difference between the policies of the three main parties. They want an alternative in the here and now. If not, some will turn to the racist and fascist BNP, as has already begun.
Working to a timetable
The discussion on how to build that alternative must start now. We need a timetable. It should be in no more than two years - or by the next general election. That would force us to focus. At the moment we have a campaign for a new party - the CNWP. I am proud to be the CNWP press officer, and the Socialist Alliance, of which I am national secretary, has played a positive role in the CNWP's development. But, after two years, it remains very much a campaign, albeit the most likely one to succeed.
A campaign is an operation pursued to achieve a purpose. What is the CNWP's purpose? It is to form a new workers' party. After two years of pursuing that goal, we need to take stock. How close are we to it? If we do not intend to have that new party in place by the next general election, for example, then what is our goal? If it is the same goal we set ourselves in March 2006, then why have our actions not been effective?
Moving CNWP forward
The Socialist Alliance has put forward a number of suggestions which could have moved the CNWP towards at least a pre-party formation or a pro-party alliance.
We have suggested that the 3,000 CNWP supporters are encouraged to become individual members of the campaign. We called on the CNWP to adopt a federal structure which encourages affiliation and automatic representation from all supportive political organisations irrespective of size, and representation for independents.
We asked for CNWP working groups to develop the agreed policy points in the CNWP Charter. We suggested a discussion e-list to encourage dialogue between supporters.
All these, so far rejected by the Socialist Party majority, would keep the campaign going whilst starting to prepare for a more structured organisation - as agreed at the CNWP launch conference.
We need a party/organisation that is open, inclusive of both individuals and socialist/green socialist groups, pluralistic, democratic and non-sectarian in every sense of the word. It should be formed both by campaigning amongst the working class, as the CNWP quite rightly is doing, but also by inviting all the left to join. Yes, that includes the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP).
How you get that unity is not easy. The Socialist Alliance moved at the last CNWP steering committee for discussions to commence about how best to approach all socialist unity projects and other progressive red/green groups and individuals - with a view to inviting them to a conference in 2008 to discuss ways of uniting the left - not to form the new party. That was also rejected.
Some of us have been striving for socialist unity for over 15 years. Why has it not happened? We need to identify the hurdles. The main one is the sectarianism of the left. Each left group/unity project thinks it has the answers and seeks to build its own organisation first and foremost. We must learn tolerance and respect for each other, and acknowledge that none of us has all the answers.
Those of us involved in the original SA, or, indeed, within Respect, will be only too aware of the SWP's control freakery. We will need structures in place that prevent a repeat. But we need to include the SWP, just as we should welcome and include all progressive socialist and green socialist forces.
Mark Serwotka was so right when he mentioned the idiocy of there being three different socialist unity projects meeting on the same Saturday in different venues. By the following weekend, a further four had met nationally but separately - Respect Renewal, the SA, TUSP and the AGS.
This division of the left into at least seven distinct blocks has got to be overcome. As a start, whilst we continue to develop the CNWP, we should also organise a delegate conference to discuss, at the very least, ways of uniting the left, and explore how we could unite better. The SA will be pursuing this goal in the months ahead.
Timetable for new party cannot be determined precisely in advance
Pete's contribution on how a new mass workers' party can be brought into being is welcome. The Socialist Alliance and Pete in particular, are playing a positive role in the development of CNWP. Like the Socialist Party, the Socialist Alliance feels strongly that the creation of a mass left alternative to the main parties is vitally important. Any interim steps towards that goal would be welcome.
Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist, CNWP national chair person
For the Socialist Party, this question is a crucial issue confronting the workers' movement. The creation of a new party is increasingly urgent, long overdue in fact, given the vacuum that exists regarding representation of workers' interests and the resulting frustration, leaving room that can be occupied by organisations like the racist BNP.
However, we do not agree with Pete that it is possible for the CNWP to set a precise "timetable" for the creation of a new party. The CNWP is playing an effective role in popularising the idea of a new party amongst trade unionists and community activists. It has had success and now has, as Pete says, over 3,000 supporters. Nonetheless, it does not yet have the active base needed to found a new party or even pre-party formation.
Particularly after the failures of the last decade - the Socialist Labour Party, the hijacking by the SWP of the Socialist Alliance, the Scottish Socialist Party and now the split in Respect - it is important that the next attempt at building a new mass party has the right foundations, with at least a good chance of success.
While we do not expect a new party to come into existence fully formed, nonetheless the initial stages need to involve a significant layer of new working class activists, whether they are initially mainly trade unionists, community campaigners, or young people.
It also needs to have a democratic, open, federal approach if it is to succeed in building on that base to draw in a broader layer of activists. This is, as Pete recognises, the opposite of the rule or ruin "control freakery" of the SWP, which has already resulted in two of the above initiatives hitting the rocks.
When the CNWP was founded, it approached left organisations, including Respect and the SWP, to become involved. Both declined.
Demonstrating our openness to discussion, we nonetheless invited a representative from Respect to speak at the CNWP founding conference. We continue to be open to discussion with all genuine forces on the left. But any new formation that adopts the high-handed approach of the SWP is doomed to failure.
The Socialist Party believes we need to assess at each stage the level of support the CNWP has and draw organisational conclusions on that basis. We do not at all preclude the CNWP moving to found a new party, or pre-party formation, in the future and perhaps before the next general election.
Equally, the CNWP should enthusiastically support any serious initiative by other organisations to found a new party, for example springing from the trade unions. We do not think this can be decided now but must be judged on the basis of events.
The last CNWP officers' meeting agreed to organise a series of public meetings in the run-up to the May local elections, as well as campaigning initiatives at several of this year's trade union conferences, on the need for unions to disaffiliate from Labour and build a party that represents their interests.
The Socialist Party is committed to building enthusiastically for these initiatives. We can then, at the June CNWP conference, take decisions on how best to develop the CNWP from there, and what structures will do so most effectively, out of the massive opportunities that will arise in the next period.
In The Socialist 27 February 2008:
Campaign for a New Workers Party
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party campaigns