Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/431/5062
What we think
The case for a new workers' party
THREE YEARS on from the start of the war in Iraq, thousands are once again taking to the streets to oppose the occupation. Today opposition is at its highest ever level. But the 18 March demonstration, important as it is, will not come close to the high water mark of the anti-war movement - 15 February 2003 - when two million marched on the streets of London as part of the biggest simultaneous movement in world history.
Anti-war mobilisations are now smaller partly because of the situation in Iraq. Terrible as the ongoing brutal occupation is there is an understandable, if mistaken, feeling that immediately withdrawing the troops would make the situation worse and bring a full blown civil war closer.
But also, the fact that the government went to war in the face of such huge opposition left many feeling helpless at their inability to change events. The Socialist Party argued that to force New Labour to pull out of the war would take more than magnificent demonstrations. We called for the trade union leaders that mobilised for 15 February to go further and to call work stoppages against the war.
However, we also made another point. Once the war had begun millions were left feeling powerless. But if a new political alternative - a new party - had come out of the anti-war movement it would have offered a way for the most thinking of the anti-war demonstrators to fight for change.
Call for a new party
If one of the main speakers at the 15 February demonstration had launched a call for such a party many thousands would have joined and would have been able to channel their anger into a party that genuinely represented them.
Instead, various left Labour MPs called on people to join the Labour Party in order to try and change it. The other political alternative on offer was Charles Kennedy, then leader of the Liberal Democrats, who falsely claimed the anti-war mantle and then dropped opposition to the war the moment it started.
A new party launched at the height of the anti-war movement would obviously have had opposition to the war in Iraq as its central theme. However, it would have inevitably and necessarily, gone beyond that. Having gained momentum from the anti-war mood, it would have had to go on to tackle the other issues which are central to the lives of working class people - such as poverty pay and cuts and privatisation of health, education and other services.
The opportunity of 15 February was missed, but the need for a new party is clearer than ever. It is for that reason that the Socialist Party has launched the Campaign for a New Workers' Party. Our premise is simple: the mainstream parties are all fundamentally the same in that they represent the interests of big business; and that we urgently need to campaign for the establishment of a new party that represents the majority - working-class people.
We do not believe that New Labour's course can be shifted back to the left. New Labour's utter degeneration under Blair was highlighted by former Tory leader Michael Howard's final speech to parliament where he quoted Blair's boast about New Labour: "I have taken from my party everything they thought they believed in. I have stripped them of their core beliefs. What keeps it together is power."
The democratic structures of the Labour Party have been destroyed. Membership of the party has halved since 1997. The only way a serious struggle could be launched to reclaim the Labour Party would be if tens of thousands of workers and young people could be convinced to join to fight to rebuild its democratic structures, but this is ruled out.
The Labour Representation Committee (LRC) tried to do just that at the height of the anti-war movement. But they discovered that workers and young people entering struggle have no interest in joining the party they are fighting against. On the contrary, older trade unionists, who had been Labour Party members for decades, are leaving in disgust. The LRC itself has only 500 members.
Nor do we think that the Green Party offers a viable alternative. For example, Green Party councillors on Brighton and Hove council voted in favour of the privatisation of council housing in the city in the form of an Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO).
Respect, the coalition led by George Galloway and the Socialist Workers' Party has aimed to use the anti-war movement to build a new electoral alternative. We welcome its electoral successes but do not believe it marks a step towards a new mass party of the working class.
It may not seem the easiest path to fight to found a new party. But a new mass party, made up predominantly of working-class people and which fought in their interests, would have a huge effect in giving confidence to those struggling against the attacks of big-business governments.
At the moment, any anti-war movement activist, or worker who goes on strike, or campaigner who opposes privatisation or cuts, faces nothing but vitriol from the mainstream media and politicians. Even just having a major political party that told the other side of the story, and that stood side-by-side with workers in struggle, would play a key role in raising the working class of England and Wales from its knees and giving it the confidence to fight back.
Struggle and solidarity
But a party would do more than that. It would attempt to cut across the racist and divisive ideas peddled by the capitalist media. It would be active and involved in every struggle of working people and would assist in linking those struggles together. It would encourage international solidarity and publicise the struggles of the working class and oppressed worldwide which are almost completely ignored by the capitalist media.
Fundamentally, a new party would be a force for working-class emancipation. It would link together the day-to-day struggles to defend and improve our living conditions with the long-term interests of the working class.
However, it is crucial that a new party, if it is to succeed, is open, democratic and welcoming and is politically something completely different to the existing order.
It is only by breaking with the old, worn-out ideas of slavishly following the free market, bowing before the dictats of global capitalism, that it will be possible to build a party which can actually attract the millions who have currently turned away from 'politics' because they see nothing on offer but continuing attacks on living standards and the same lies and corruption.
Today, in Britain, around 150 companies completely dominate the lives of 60 million people. Worldwide 500 multinational companies control 70% of world production. But rather than aspiring to common ownership of the vast resources that are currently in the hands of a few billionaires - so that they can be used to meet the needs of humanity instead of for the profit of a few - Blair has joined the Tories and Liberal Democrats in prostrating himself before these billionaires.
This is the logical consequence of his acceptance of the capitalist profit system. Instead, a new party will fight for a society where the enormous wealth, science and technique created by capitalism will be harnessed to meet the needs of all. The Socialist Party will argue that this means the new party should adopt a democratic socialist programme.
The Campaign for a New Workers' Party is not proposing to launch a new party immediately - but to campaign and argue for such a party - to popularise the idea as a step towards bringing a new party into being.
Already more than 1,200 activists have signed up to the campaign and an initial conference is being held on Sunday 19 March. Speakers will include Mark Serwotka general secretary of the PCS and a wide variety of trade union and other speakers.
We urge trade unionists, anti-war protesters and community campaigners to attend this conference and help build an alternative to war, privatisation and the profit system.
In The Socialist 16 March 2006: