Sunday, 27 May 2007

Which way forward for the Left

Mikael asked me to post something I put on my Blog earlier. Under the title 'The Long March' I thought I would share some of the discussions I have been having amongst Socialists in my part of the world (Southampton).

I mentioned in an earlier post about the need to evaluate the john4leader campaign and the undoubted success it had of bringing together the layers of the Labour and non Labour left behind what was a brave effort to challenge the ideas of New Labour. There have been a number of discussions started , on blogs in particular but also in the wider movement as a whole as to the ways forward. I thought I would add my own piece to consider in what will be a tense but crucial debate.

Over the last 5 years it has become increasingly apparent that the left both inside and outside of Labour is weak and disunited. This lack of unity has certainly damaged the cause of socialist ideas in the eyes of many workers conscious of the need to transform society.

The non Labour left have stubbornly refused to accept the Labour Left , deriding its aims as futile and its influence small or even insignificant. They see them as a spent force locked in the late 70s , early 80s (oddly sharing a view with many Blairites today!!)

They see the Labour Party as a dead end.

Meanwhile the non labour left organise around election campaigns as a socialist alternative with very few successes hoping that certain conditions will prevail sometime in the future that will enable them to be a challenge similar to movements in the Netherlands, Germany and Scotland (Mind you I think it might be wise to lay the Scottish experience to rest for the moment)

They have proved unsuccessful in wrestling traditional working class support from the Labour Party.To be blunt they have proved that they are not 'up to the job' and will remain so.It is mainly for this reason that organisations such as the CNWP and Respect will fail in bringing the Labour Left to their banner.

But what of the Labour Left?

To be associated with the Labour Party is a bummer!! The left take a hammering because they are wrongly associated with the Blairite leadership who boldly continue where Thatcher and Major left off.There is a way forward.I mentioned before about the success of the john4leader campaign. Not success in challenging Gordon Brown in a leadership election, that got clearly kicked into touch by some seriously unprincipled MPs, but success in getting out to the the layers of socialist activists all over the country , in particulat the activists in the Trade Unions in a way that the non labour left could only dream of achieving.

It became apparent quite early on that the campaign was tapping into something that showed potential for growth but most important , potential for unity.John McDonnell challenged the existing order of things by bringing to the attention of trade unionists in particular that Privatisation can be opposed politically as well as industrially, the War in Iraq can be opposed and stopped, that there are alternative views to the housing problems workers face and the full scale assault on our NHS can be reversed.

He showed socialist ideas were realistic and affordable.

But in my view , most importantly, his campaign brought a unity that showed that the challenge can come from both inside and outside the party as long as the left as a whole organised together to achieve these common aims.

The debate now centres on what kind of 'organisation' should exist in order to make this unity effective?

How do we bring socialists together who work in the trade unions, community groups and progressive single issue campaigns under a common campaigning banner?

At long last it is a unity debate that I am happy to take part in.

I will return with my proposals in a later posting.

6 comments:

Mikael said...

Thank you, Ian. Great post!

grimupnorth said...

Well said.

el Tom said...

"To be associated with the Labour Party is a bummer!! The left take a hammering because they are wrongly associated with the Blairite leadership who boldly continue where Thatcher and Major left off.There is a way forward."

Here here.

Mike Baldock said...

Excellent post Ian.

There's one thing that the Left outside Labour tend to forget when trying to denigrate us - there are still 2 dozen solidly Socialist MPs in parliament.
If Respect or any other left grouping managed to get a tenth of that number elected as MPs they'd be crowing about some kind of breakthrough!

What John's campaign did - amongst many other things - was make a lot of unaligned left and former Labour supporters think about (re)joining the Labour party again. Obviously the crushing of democracy will have put many of them off again, but we can carry on the same way, and provide them with the confidence that joining Labour isn't a betrayal of true values, but a positive means to push those values forward.

I guess we (I certainly) need to stop apologising for being Labour when challenged, but be proud in stating what we believe in and how we are actually doing something about it!

Commissar said...

A very good post indeed.

"The debate now centres on what kind of 'organisation' should exist in order to make this unity effective?"

A lot of what is needed to organise the Labour left is present in the John4Leader campaign.

Yes, it was terrible that John didnt get on the ballot, but the people who signed up to his campaign did so for Socialism in the Labour Party. A struggle that did not end when John did not make it, one that must continue the good work that has been done.

Perhaps a start would be getting a prominant link to this blog on John's blog

" How do we bring socialists together who work in the trade unions, community groups and progressive single issue campaigns under a common campaigning banner?"

For me a start would be supporting a Deputy Leader who would seek to re-engage the party grassroots and the unions, regardless of who he did or did not nominate for deputy. That is why I will still eb voting for Cruddas, and I hope many of the Labour Left do also

E10 Rifle said...

Yeah I'd agree that the very existence of the McDonnell campaign has been a success, in that it's smoked out progressives in the Labour party and got them talking to each other, discussing stuff and thinking. I've certainly found it energising.

The key thing is, at this point, the Labour right may have the machinery and the establishment blessing, but they don't have the popular momentum they had in, say, 1997 - when people really were flocking in considerable numbers to what we might call "Blairism", either out of conviction or careerism.

Now, no one's embracing New Labour out of any great zeal for what they're about. New Labourism is now intellectually weak, unpopular and on the defensive. Admittedly, the left isn't strong either, but there's a large ground over which we can battle. And while they may have the (metaphorical) guns, we might yet be able to have the numbers.