Socialist Party documents

British Perspectives 2008

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New mass workers' party

The struggle to create a mass independent political voice for the working class is the most important task we face in this period.

It is for this reason that we have launched the Campaign for a New Workers' Party (CNWP) and must continue to strive to develop it.

The effect of the working class having its own political voice has been demonstrated by the immediate consequences of the development of the Left Party in Germany.

Despite the faults and limitations of the Left Party, its existence has forced the capitalist parties to drop some aspects of its most brutal anti-working class policies in order to try to undercut the Left Party.

Conversely, Brown has openly told the trade union leaders that they have no choice but to accept his government's policies - because no alternative exists.

As we have explained on many previous occasions, if an individual or organisation with sufficient social weight was to launch a new workers' party with a fighting programme it would very quickly gain the support of tens of thousands.

While we have been able to have an important impact in popularising the idea of a new party, we do not have sufficient social weight in the current situation to act as the catalyst for the immediate creation of a new party.

Unfortunately, the RMT, which was considering standing in the London assembly elections this year, appear to have retreated from this, possibly because it felt the field would be too messy due to the break up of Respect.

While the break up of Respect has not had any impact on the mass of the working class, it has inevitably been seized upon by those who believe it is impossible to build a mass force to the left of Labour.

In addition it is bound to have had a certain confusing effect on some of those activists who want to see a new party develop, particularly coming after the failures of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), the Socialist Labour Party and the Socialist Alliance.

However, nationally we must encourage workers and community campaigns to stand in the elections this May on anti-cuts, anti-privatisation programmes.

Fifteen Fire Brigades Union (FBU) activists in the North West have already stated that they will stand.

In addition, there is an increasing number of areas where the potential for anti-cuts and anti-privatisation candidates exist as a result of local community campaigns.

We have led significant local campaigns of this character, several of them victorious, including the Walthamstow dinner ladies, the Lewisham housing ballot and the Bristol library struggles.

Unfortunately, most have been in areas where there are no elections this year!

Frustration at wasted opportunities, and the feeling that no progress is being made, creates a danger that some party members begin to feel that there will never be significant steps towards a new mass workers' party.

It may seem ironic, but one of the most important tenets of Marxism is patience. Giving into the urge to find a short cut, to force the pace of history beyond what is possible, leads to the serious opportunist mistakes of our ex-members who founded the SSP or, come to that, the completely opportunist basis on which the Socialist Workers' Party launched Respect.

We have to be patient but also prepared for a speedy and perhaps unexpected break in the situation. Our sister section in Germany did not expect the WASG to be founded when it was. It was initiated seemingly out of the blue by a section of middle ranking trade union officials - but the fact they acted when they did was a reflection of a marked shift in consciousness by the working class.

We have to be prepared for similar shifts in consciousness here, which could come as a result of a more generalised movement or, even without that, as a result of political radicalisation from the experience of recession or slowdown.

In the latter case a new mass party, or pre-party formation, would then have a critical role to play in helping to give workers the confidence to struggle.

The CNWP is currently playing an important propaganda role in fighting for a new party. However, on a basis of a change in the political situation, it might quickly be in a position to act as a catalyst for the creation of one.

Meanwhile, however, the void created by the absence of a new mass workers' party can have all kinds of effects on political developments.

If, as is possible, the CWU votes to break the link with Labour at its conference this year this will be a very positive development.

If a significant step towards a new mass workers' party already existed it would undoubtedly make CWU disaffiliation more likely.

It would also quickly attract the support of militant postal workers, even if not initially the official support of the union.

However, in the absence of such a party, disaffiliation will inevitably contain a strong element of syndicalism.

Given the rotten nature of the three main capitalist parties and the absence of an alternative there is bound to be a certain 'anti-party' mood in society.

The existence of a large-scale serious, fighting, workers' party would begin to cut across this, particularly as it gained a reputation for fighting for workers' rights.

However, given the anti-party mood, amongst trade union militants the absence of such a party is inevitably reflected by a feeling that no political alternative is possible or necessary, that industrial militancy is sufficient.

Of course, it would be wrong to imagine that the establishment of a new party would automatically completely obliterate this trend, particularly if it has developed further.

However, at this stage syndicalism is an embryonic trend in the British working class born primarily out of anger at the lack of a political alternative.

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