It’s that time again — new passions and projects have taken me away from any interest in personal blogging here. This blog is therefore on extended, maybe terminal, hiatus – apart, perhaps, from part 2 of this interview, which will maybe appear in the ‘interviews’ section above at some point. Whatever little I have to say, you will be able to find me saying it in future here, here or, of course, here (@LeftUnityLeam). Thanks for listening, hope to see you somewhere down the road.
Five years since the near-collapse of the global financial system, we continue to face economic and social catastrophe. Trillions of dollars have been poured into the private banks to stave off disaster and the result has been to transfer their debts onto the books of national governments causing an immense sovereign debt crisis. The response of governments, led by the Troika of European institutions, has been to adopt extreme and far-reaching austerity policies. In this way they have sought to make the poor pay for the current crisis whilst simultaneously attempting to deal with the systemic crisis of capitalism by reverting to the form it had in the 1930s, without social protections, which meant a visit to the doctor was to be dreaded because of the cost, and every knock on the door could be another debt collector.
That face of capitalism was superseded – temporarily as is now clear – after 1945, as humanising reform elements were adopted under the pressure of the strengthened post-war labour movements and the social democracy that they gave rise to across much of Western Europe. Following the pattern adopted in the Global South where post-colonial reforms were destroyed by the structural adjustment policies of the IMF and World Bank, resulting in poverty, environmental destruction, intra-state conflict and increasing violence against women, Europe’s post-1945 social gains are now being brutally reversed. Governments use the excuse of ‘paying off the deficit’ to cut public spending and redistribute society’s wealth in the interests of the ruling class, by reducing wages and destroying the ‘social wage’ of health, education, social services and welfare. The result is that whilst we see the rise of poverty, homelessness and unemployment, the wealth of the richest in our societies continues to grow at an exponential rate. We have entered the age of austerity where in a topsy-turvy world those who are responsible for the economic crisis are making the vast majority, who are not responsible, pay for their greed and profligacy and for the fundamental flaws in their system.
Everything which makes life worth living is being eroded. Hospitals and GP surgeries, schools, welfare systems, libraries and community leisure provision – all have to be closed or privatised to feed the insatiable demands of the debt. All that was fought for and won in the post-war period is now under attack as the ruling class takes the opportunity to turn back history to the 1930s. In Greece, which is the test case for the most extreme version of these austerity measures, the entire health system is being dismantled. Children are no longer vaccinated for the most common diseases. Youth unemployment there has reached 65% and millions rely on food hand outs just to live. Malnutrition is evident. Here in Britain, one of the richest countries in the world, more than half a million rely on food-banks just to feed their families every week. This is a situation which can only worsen. We are, as yet, only in the early stages of this austerity programme with the majority of the cuts still to come.
The urgent questions that faces us are, first, how to stop this offensive by the rich and defend the welfare state and, second, how to extend the social gains, making them permanent and using them as a basis from which to build a fully democratic society – not just political democracy, but social and economic democracy, run by the people for the people. In the past, working people in this country relied on the Labour Party to represent them. Despite its many shortcomings, in some respects the party upheld the interests of ordinary people and for many years worked to advance their standards of living. However, since then, social democracy – whether in Britain or in Greece, Spain or France – has moved sharply to the right. Rather than defending the people who vote for it and support it, it no longer plays its traditional role of ameliorating capitalism. Instead social democracy defends the barbarism of capitalism and justifies the attacks on the living standards of the majority.
Across Europe, however, people are fighting back. In Greece there have been more than 23 general strikes. In Portugal, Spain and elsewhere there have been demonstrations of hundreds of thousands. Portugal has seen the biggest movement since the revolution of 1974. In Britain in 2011, half a million people marched against austerity. On 14th November 2012, millions of workers throughout Europe took coordinated strike action and millions more demonstrated in their support. The young people of Europe have occupied the public squares, direct action has grown and many campaigns to defend the welfare systems have been built. However, despite these movements the avalanche of austerity continues to crash down on the peoples of Europe. There have been few victories. In some countries there have been temporary retreats by the ruling elites but nowhere yet has the system been fundamentally shaken by the action of the people.
A third element has emerged alongside the strike wave and the struggles of the youth and the anti-austerity campaigners: the development of new parties of the left throughout Europe. As the ‘socialist’ parties like PASOK in Greece, PSOE in Spain and the Parti Socialiste (PS) in France have moved to the right so left parties have been strengthened and have won substantial support from working people. The situation is most advanced in Greece where PASOK was, until 2012, the party of government receiving 40% of the popular vote. It voted for austerity and made the cuts; now it stands at only 5% in the polls and is a thoroughly discredited political formation. Its place has been taken by Syriza, an anti-austerity party that seeks to form a workers’ government. In Spain the social democratic PSOE is travelling the same path as PASOK, and Izquierda Unida, the United Left – sister party of Syriza – is now at 17% in the polls.
Despite the fact that the Labour Party, like PASOK, PSOE and the PS, has betrayed the labour movement and embraced neo-liberalism over the past twenty years, many find it difficult to imagine the emergence of a new mass left opposition in Britain. Some argue that the political forces which gave rise to the left parties in Europe don’t exist here; that the union link with Labour is too strong, that ‘reclaiming’ Labour is the only possibility. These are factors which need to be considered, but the self-destructive turn by the Labour leadership against the union link must lead to a reassessment by the trade unions of their political location and the necessity of their supporting a new party of the left.
For the reality is that the people of Britain need political representation; they need a party which will fight to defend and advance their interests rather than standing idly by or siding with ruling class attacks. There is a limit to how long working class people can wait for Labour to stand up for them. The welfare state needs defending now. For many, that limit has already been passed. Labour supports the government’s spending cuts and fails to oppose the attacks on the poor and most oppressed groups in society. Its failure to pledge to reverse iniquities like the bedroom tax when in office is reminiscent of the failure of the Labour government after 1997 to reverse Thatcher’s anti-trade union legislation. Its concessions to racism and xenophobia in the form of anti-immigration policies are the worst form of vote seeking and tailing of far right policies. It is based on craven pandering, both to the government’s scapegoating culture which obscures the reality of the disproportionate impact of the cuts on black people and to its condoning of Islamophobia and refusal to recognise the role of its foreign policy in giving rise to terrorism. Nothing any longer inspires any hope or confidence in the Labour Party to meet the people’s needs, to defend our civil liberties or to fight for policies based on peace and justice. A new left party would stand unequivocally against racism and Islamophobia.
The Labour Party’s support for austerity is not the only reason for founding and building a new party of the left. Throughout its history Labour has backed war and foreign intervention, as well as Britain’s exploitation of other countries for economic gain. Tony Blair’s championing of the Iraq war was in keeping with much of Labour’s historic foreign policy role and the duplicitous way in which he took the country to war – in spite of strong opposition from many within the Labour Party itself – served to underline the moral degeneration of the party leadership; the subsequent parliamentary expenses scandal further eroded trust not only in parliamentary political standards generally but in Labour in particular. This degeneration and abandonment of the core values of the labour movement, together with the failure to champion the needs of ordinary people, is in part responsible for the rise of UKIP. A new party of the left is needed to stand against war and military intervention, for a drastic reduction of military expenditure for the benefit of social spending, and for a foreign policy based on peace and equality.
The political conditions exist for the creation of a new left party in Britain. In their specifics they are not the same as those that have given rise to new left parties elsewhere in Europe. But the fundamental facts are the same: ordinary people need a party to represent their interests, to defend the welfare state and the past gains of the working class. They also need one that will take those gains forward and work to transform society in a new way, which the Labour Party only ever partly embraced: the full democratisation of politics, society and the economy, by and for the people.
A new left party will stand for an alternative set of values of equality and justice: socialist, feminist, environmentalist and against all forms of discrimination.
We are socialist because our vision of society is one where the meeting of human needs is paramount, not one which is driven by the quest for private profit and the enrichment of a few. The natural wealth, productive resources and social means of existence will be owned in common and democratically run by and for the people as a whole, rather than being owned and controlled by a small minority to enrich themselves. The reversal of the gains made in this direction after 1945 has been catastrophic and underlines the urgency of halting and reversing the neo-liberal onslaught.
We are feminist because our vision of society is one without the gender oppression and exploitation which blights the lives of women and girls and makes full human emancipation impossible. We specify our feminism because historical experience shows that the full liberation of women does not automatically follow the nationalisation of productive forces or the reordering of the economy. We fight to advance this goal in the current political context, against the increasing divergence between men’s and women’s incomes, against the increasing poverty among women, against the ‘double burden’ of waged work and unshared domestic labour, and against the increasing violence against women in society and in personal relationships, which is exacerbated by the economic crisis.
We are environmentalist because our vision of society is one which recognises that if humankind is to survive, it has to establish a sustainable relationship with the rest of the natural world – of which it is part and on which it depends. We recognise that an economy based on achieving maximum profits at the lowest cost in the shortest possible time is destroying our planet. The current operation of industry and economy is totally incompatible with the maintenance of the ecosystem through the growing loss of bio and agro diversity, the depletion of resources and increasing climate change. The future of the planet can only be secured through a sustainable, low carbon industrial base designed to meet people’s needs on a global basis.
We are opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether on the basis of gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, religion, age or politics. The current economic onslaught disproportionately affects already disadvantaged groups and we oppose their persecution and oppression. We support the free development, opportunity and expression of all, without impinging on the rights of others, and the introduction of legislation and social provision to make this intention a reality. No society is just and equal while some people remain without the support needed to achieve their full potential.
The political practice of the new left party will be democratic, diverse and inclusive, committed to open dialogue and new ways of working. We are committed to mutual respect and tolerance of differences of analysis. We seek to work now in the ways that we wish to see established in a transforming society, which is moving from the brutality of capitalism to a society based on socialist principles. We start from our common humanity and thus the importance of creating the conditions in which everyone is able to develop their full potential within our communities. We reject the corruption of conventional political structures and their reproduction of the gender domination of capitalist society, from which the left thus far has not been exempt. We will redouble our efforts to eradicate these practices from our politics and recognise that the achievement of equality in social relations is a continual struggle which cannot be deferred until a later date.
The new left party will campaign, mobilise and support struggles on a day to day basis, recognising the need for self-organisation in working class communities. We recognise that support for a new left party and its electoral success will only advance to the extent that it is genuinely representative of working class communities, has no interests separate from theirs, and is an organic part of the campaigns and movements which they generate and support. The new left party will engage in the national and local electoral processes, offering voters a left alternative, while understanding that elections are not the only arena or even the most important arena in which political struggles are fought.
The new left party will be an internationalist party. There are no national solutions to the problems that humanity faces. Capitalism is an international system, highly organised and globalised and its defeat requires not only international solidarity but the linking up and coordination of struggles across Europe and the world. The new left party will seek international links and work to establish active coordination with like-minded movements such as the new European left parties currently organised in the European Left Party, including Syriza, Bloco de Esquerda, Izquierda Unida, Die Linke, Front de Gauche and others. We will also seek to learn from the experience of those parties in Latin America which have challenged and rejected neo-liberal economic policies and are establishing a social and economic alternative in the interests of the majority of their peoples.
We recognise the urgency of the task before us in founding this new party on a basis which will enable it to grow and develop, to be a party of the people and for the people. The rise of the far right across Europe is a stark warning of what may come to pass if the left in Europe fails to be effective and combat the barbarism of capitalism and fascism. Here in Britain we must take our part in that struggle and make our contribution to the full liberation of humanity.
Document of the Left Party Platform of Left Unity
Gilbert Achcar, Jay Blackwood, Andrew Burgin, Terry Conway, Gioia Coppola, Merry Cross, Felicity Dowling, John Duveen, Suzy Gillett, Liz Gray, Winmarie Greenland, Joe Hallet, Guy Harper, Louise Harrison, Kate Hudson, Chris Hurley, Nick Jones, Jim Kelly, Rosalie Kelly, Graeme Kirkpatrick, Joe Kisolo-Ssonko, Fred Leplat, Nick Long, Sharon McCourt, Sheila Mosley, Susan Pashkoff, Marc Renwick, Ed Rooksby, Jenny Ross, Barbara Segal, Salman Shaheen, Sean Thompson, Alan Thornett, Doug Thorpe, Bianca Todd, Mike Tucker, Tom Walker, Stuart Watkins, Jake Whitby, Roland Wood.
John Cowper Powys on Dickens:
“He was a vulgar writer. Why not? England would not be England—and what would London be?—if we didn’t have a touch, a smack, a sprinkling of that ingredient!
“He was a shameless sentimentalist. Why not? It is better to cry than to comb one’s hair all day with an ivory comb.
“He was a monstrous melodramatist. Why not? To be born is a melodrama. To play “hide-and-seek” with Death is a melodrama. And some have found melodramatic satisfaction in letting themselves be caught. All the World’s a Puppet-Show, and if the Big Showman jerks his wires so extravagantly, why should not the Little Showman do the same?”
The rest of this brilliant yet short essay here.
Izabella Kaminska of the Financial Times talks a lot about artificial scarcity and how it shapes the modern world. Is she a closet Marxist? She certainly sounds like one. The Marxist argument is that the profit motive and markets artificially create scarcity by restricting access to produced goods to those who can afford them, or restricting production to those quantities at which those goods can be sold at a profit. So a glut in food markets doesn’t mean too much food has been produced in relation to hungry people, just that hungry people with no money do not constitute a market or a profitable investment opportunity. Capitalist crisis as we know it is a very recent phenomenon (1840s?) and is exactly a situation of artificial scarcity: a capitalist economic crisis is not a result of there being not enough stuff (eg famine), but because there’s too much stuff to be sold profitably. Starving people sat right next door to vast warehouses full of food. Or, as in the 2007 crisis, people who couldn’t afford their mortgages sitting in motels or on the streets in a country of empty houses.
The obvious retort then is, well, what’s the alternative? Capitalism produces the goods, but how are they to be distributed? It’s clear, isn’t it, that the central planning of socialism just doesn’t work? Well, is it all that clear? I recently watched Ken Loach’s (brilliant) The Spirit of ’45, which reminded me of an old socialist argument on planning. When young soldiers came back to their families from World War II, they were no longer in a mood to put up with the poverty and unemployment they’d left behind. And they would no longer buy the argument of the ruling class that central planning and collective organisation and individual sacrifice for the common good didn’t work, because the war economy had been exactly that! And it had won the war! If it could be used to win a war, why not to win the peace? That’s when Churchill started waving around Hayek’s “The Road To Serfdom”. Churchill was defeated in the post-war election, and as a result we got the welfare state and the NHS and so on. Hardly perfect, but hardly serfdom either, and it meant people didn’t starve when they didn’t have a job or die when they fell ill.
Having said that, I’ve never been a defender of central planning as such – the socialist currents I’m most sympathetic with agree that Soviet-style economies were broadly a disaster for workers, let alone for productivity and general living standards, and have at least tried to take on board Hayek/Mises’s criticisms.
It’s true that Hayekian/Misean arguments against central planning are strong ones and I’m relatively familiar with them, but I’m not sure that a socialist system need rely on central planning any more than our current capitalist one does. (The right hates central planning when it suits them, but turn to it without scruple when it doesn’t, both within the industries they own and control, and within the state to protect their own interests.) Many of the Occupy folk too were taken with Hayek, and his inspiration was at work in their own methods of decentralised decision-making. Whether that could work as well organising a whole country’s (world’s?) economy as well as a small protest camp… Well, why not? The argument in favour, if you took the time to construct it, would be little different to the ones used in favour of free markets by IEA and Adam Smith Institute and so on. The difference is that the IEA and the ASI have had their ideas forced on us by state power. Occupy’s are more in the genuine free-market, libertarian spirit.
As for exactly how production and distribution would work in the Marxist scheme of things, there’s a long literature on it, partly based on the experience of previously existing socialisms, but also on lots of speculation. But historical reflection and futuristic speculation is all it can be really. There was never a point when the capitalists had to think up every detail of their system in advance before it got going, so I doubt there will be a need for socialists to do so either. If the socialist revolution follows the capitalist ones, the socialist economy will grow up behind our backs, and there’ll come a point where it just doesn’t make any sense not to take power and sweep the old regime away. People say the revolution predicted by Marx hasn’t materialised yet but, in the historic scheme of things, he only made the prediction yesterday afternoon…
When I say revolution, of course I’m aware most people just don’t want a revolution. I don’t think anyone does really, revolutions just get forced on people against their will, like what’s happening in Turkey (I’m not saying that that is a revolution strictly speaking, or at least not yet, but a small handful of peaceful treehuggers one day found themselves in mass movement being shot at by the police the next. They didn’t choose the situation.) But when I say I’m in favour of socialist revolution I’m not thinking of tanks and coups (though sadly most people who call themselves Marxist probably are), just big changes. Big, peaceful changes, coming from lots of people getting together and sorting things out…
Or, as a favourite thinker of mine put it, “There are no magic answers, no miraculous methods to overcome the problems we face, just the familiar ones: honest search for understanding, education, organization, action that raises the cost of state violence for its perpetrators or that lays the basis for institutional change, and the kind of commitment that will persist despite the temptations of disillusionment, despite many failures and only limited successes, inspired by the hope of a brighter future.”
Last weekend my partner and I were taking a Sunday constitutional in our local park when we heard the sound of singing and guitars blowing in the breeze. As lovers of music, we naturally followed our ears and walked over to the bandstand, and yet discovered, to our horror, a huge crowd of happy, smiley people, holding hands, swaying to the beat, looking to the sky, and singing about Jesus. Our skin crawled, and we ran in the other direction to continue our quiet contemplation of nature.
But it got me thinking. Exactly why do Christians give us the creeps? Some set my skin crawling more than others, and the happy-clappy evangelicals and the door-knockers are the worst of them. But nevertheless there’s something about the whole Christian gig that makes me extremely reluctant to buy a ticket, even when it’s for one night only and they’re being given out for free. But again, why? Exactly why?
It’s not because I am hostile to religion as such. I am not. Most if not all of the most profound wisdom and practical, useful instruction on how to live a moral and happy life is to be found in the great religious texts. This is true regardless of whether or not you are able to accept every dot and comma of the doctrine there propounded, or can accept on faith the existence of some thing or some Being called God. And it’s not even because I am hostile on principle to Christians or to the teachings of Jesus. Quite the opposite: the authors I turn to again and again for consolation and for instruction in negotiating life are almost all of them either Christian or at least deeply inspired and influenced by the Gospels and the Bible – Dickens, Tolkien, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, John Cowper Powys, and so on.
Again then, why? I haven’t yet come up with an answer that entirely satisfies me. But the closest I’ve come to an answer is to do with belief and evangelism.
When I stand on my doorstep in the mornings and listen to the birds in the trees welcoming the dawn, I have no need for belief in the trees or in the birds or in joy. They exist, they are, you can’t deny them. ‘Belief’, however, has by its nature something of the counter-factual about it. You are asked whether or not you believe in some proposition or other, presumably because there’s a choice in the matter. You can believe, or not, and yet still be considered relatively rational or sane in either case. Belief isn’t something you can stub your toe on; it’s more like a story you listen to and either accept or not. Someone once said that belief is to be trapped in a lie. Perhaps. It’s certainly to be bewitched by some fiction, for good or for evil. But contrary to what most people believe, it’s not actually necessary to believe in anything. It really isn’t! I remember a famous physicist, I forget who, being asked once what he believed, and he replied that he didn’t believe in anything. It’s the scientific way – you investigate to see what is the case, you don’t attach to your beliefs. If you do have beliefs, and it’s probably harder to do without them than we at first imagine, you should wear them lightly. Because to believe fanatically in what is by its nature a fiction, an airy product of our minds and imaginations, is a bit loopy.
What about evangelism then? Evangelism can only be the attempt to force other people to believe what you believe. This attempt to force your own mind onto others may well be done by the most gentle persuasion, the sweetest appeal to reason, the most rational appraisal of the facts, but it still feels to an unwilling audience like an act of oppression, of authoritarianism, of aggression. We cannot control much, if anything, in this world, but one thing we can control, with some subtle effort and much practice, is our minds. The last thing we want is an unwelcome authoritarian intruder strutting around in there, barking out his orders.
As I said above, belief is not actually necessary. Neither, then, is evangelism. It’s possible to propagate the truth simply by living it. If something is true, you should live your life by its light. And if doing that is beneficial to yourself and to others, then it will be obvious and inspirational to see. It’s the only kind of ‘propaganda’ that works. Saying that is easy; doing it, not so much. It’s the kind of thing that takes a lifetime to master. But what else are we going to do be doing with our time?
I’ve been talking here about Christians and Christianity, but I hope it will be obvious that it applies with equal force to us on the left. It should make us think: does our activity as socialists give the very people we are trying to appeal to the creeps? Almost certainly the answer is yes, at least some of the time. We must learn to tread more carefully.
Back in March of this year, the film maker Ken Loach issued an appeal in The Guardian newspaper for a new party of the left – one that would fill the gap in Britain that leaves us without a political party committed to defending the welfare state and transforming the economy so that it meets the needs of ordinary people. The response to the appeal was – by the standards of previous such calls and considering the weakened, divided and demoralised left, not to mention the general population – a success. To date, more than 8,000 people have signed the appeal and more than 90 groups have sprung up around the country. Some of those groups, like ours in Leamington Spa, have just a small handful of members. Some are even one-man-bands. But others are already very healthy and lively and growing – the Brighton group, for example, has over 200 participants.
This Saturday marked the next step forward – Left Unity’s first national meeting, convened by a provisional organising committee, to discuss and agree how to take the project forward, and to elect a new committee to organise the group’s day to day affairs prior to a founding conference.
Prior to the meeting, there was a lively discussion on the group’s email discussion list, and, as well as many positive contributions, and a feeling of excitement and possibility about the new group, there was also a lot of fear, anxiety and distrust – partly about the scale of the task facing us, partly about the history of previous such projects weighing like a nightmare on the brains of the living.
As it turns out, the excitement was more than justified; the anxiety and fear, to my mind at least, assuaged.
The meeting started with good introductions by the chair, Bianca Todd, and Kate Hudson, one the original group’s main movers, emphasising the scale and seriousness of the tasks facing us. Then there was open discussion from the groups around the country that had been able to send representatives – about 55 groups sent representatives, and, of the 8,000 people signing the original appeal, about 1,000 had so far been in contact with a local group.
The reports from the group’s representatives were all hugely inspiring and uplifting and, to a large extent, mirrored the experience and the views of our own group. Some of the people attending the groups were already members of existing left parties; some were campaigners, old and new, active and inactive, who were prepared to give the whole unity thing another roll of the die; others were entirely new to politics, including many – especially from the north of the country, and the disabled – who had been thrown into it by the viciousness of the government’s attacks on them (and there is much more viciousness to come). All were full of enthusiasm for the new project, but many were also wary: the majority of the meeting did not want yet another left project that was a stitch-up between the existing sects, or that could be dominated and destroyed by a group that used the project for its own purposes before pulling the plug, or that was democratic in name only.
After lunch, this discussion continued for some time before moving to the first motion. The meeting had originally been called partly in order to agree a statement of the group’s broad intentions and aims and principles, and many amendments and alternative statements had been proposed. But the first motion discussed by the meeting called into question the real democratic nature of our opening gambit. Most groups were newly formed, most had not had time to consider or discuss let alone vote on the statement, most had not seen at all any of the amendments or proposed alternative statements. Some of the representatives at the meeting could properly be considered democratically elected delegates of groups, others were just individuals, or had come from a group but with no mandate for voting. And, of the 8,000 people who had signed up to have a discussion about the new party, most had still not said a word or seen a single document. What democratic right did the meeting have to decide anything? To that end, it was moved (as amended):
This meeting resolves not to take any votes on any of the statements, resolutions or amendments except for those, or those parts, which deal with 1) the election of the new national co-ordinating group [to be dissolved and replaced with a properly elected body at the first conference] 2) the process of debate and discussion 3) the dates of the next national meeting and the founding conference and 4) the principle that the new organisation should be based on ‘one member, one vote’.
This passed by majority vote, and, to my mind, was a heartening start to the whole project. We would not start out by pretending to represent more people than we really did, we would not take any decisions out of the hands of future or indeed present members of the local groups, and the new party would be based on individual membership, with every member having equal power over decision-making. These last two points were especially important in assuaging fears about takeovers or undue influence and interference from existing groups and sects. A member of a left sect in the meeting moved that the new committee should invite observers from all existing left groups; others argued that existing groups should be allowed some kind of affiliation or group membership. On the basis of past experience, such notions were rejected by an overwhelming majority of those present. Members of existing groups would be welcomed as individuals, and their views would be treated with respect and given due consideration. Invasions by groups and parties with agendas of their own would not be.
The debate on this question and the subsequent voting got at times fairly heated, and, in the absence of previously agreed structures and mechanisms, pretty chaotic. It even perhaps teetered on the brink of disaster. But this was in itself pretty inspiring stuff. It’s what real democracy is like: it ain’t always pretty, it can sometimes descend into aggression and frustration, and it can be very hard work. But the results are worth it: a decision is eventually reached that satisfies most people if not everyone, and that has authority on that basis. After a debate and a vote like that, there is a certain quiet satisfaction in a job well done if the vote goes your way; a humble acceptance if it doesn’t. At least there should be.
Then followed a short speech by Ken Loach that soothed frayed nerves and reminded us why such hard work was necessary. It was a lovely, quiet, considered talk, that laid out in very few words his vision of what the new party should be. It should be anti-capitalist. (Here Ken semi-apologised for his use of what can often seem to the uninitiated confusing or alienating language. But as he rightly pointed out, this is the language that we on the left have developed so that we can talk accurately about the world we live in and what needs to be done. We should be against a world in which human needs are only met if doing so nets a profit to private individuals. That’s what capitalism means.) It should be socialist. (The only alternative to the chaos of capitalism is a planned economy, and an economy can only be planned if we collectively own and control it. That’s what socialism means.) It should also, on the basis of painful past experience, be fully democratic, and do without ‘charismatic’ leaders.
Of course, that’s just the vision of one man. What the party will actually be like and stand for is the point of the national discussion, which is ongoing, and will be decided at the group’s founding conference in November 2013. For what it’s worth, Ken’s basic vision is also mine.
The meeting then proceeded to vote for the provisional organising committee that will organise the founding conference, and we, the representatives of the Leamington Spa group, voted for those people who had been on the first committee, as they all came across as lovely, decent, committed people, who had clearly done a great job so far; otherwise, for others who had made good contributions on the day and spoke in way that revealed they were committed to democracy; but mainly and specifically for no one who was a member of a current far-left sect.
We came away from the first national meeting feeling more exhilarated and excited about politics than we had in a decade. Of course, the sheer scale and seriousness of the tasks lying ahead of us would be enough to calm anyone down from their high and sober them up. But we return to our local group in Leamington Spa full of hope for the future, and inspired to begin as soon as possible the hard work of deciding what we want a new left party to be, how we can work to make it a success, and how to win people to its banner in defence of their own interests, those of humanity, and of future generations.