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That face of capitalism was superseded – temporarily as is now clear – after 1945, as humanising reform elements were adopted under the pressure of the strengthened post-war labour movements and the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.