Saturday, 24 November 2007

Which way forward for the left?

There has been a serious debate going on about an aspect of last Saturdays Labour Representation Committee conference (17th November in Holborn, London).

The question has arisen over the support of non labour candidates at future elections.

My view is that this really is the type of storm in the tea cup issue that mars the development of many left wing organisations and therefore I would like to demonstrate my particular view and adding a few other thoughts.

People may or may not be aware that the LRC is open to non labour party members. Non LP members of the LRC have voting rights at LRC conferences .The proviso being that it is agreed not to stand against Labour at elections. A LP member campaigning against the Labour Party would get expelled.

All Labour lefts want to preserve their position that the LP will once again be the voice for working people and social change even though the climate at the LP top over the last 20 years has been one opposed to this view. The low to non existent level of workers participation in the CLPs, the drop in over 200’000 members since 1997 and the virtual elimination of democracy in the party, have given the right wing Labour Party bureaucracy an incredibly strong position.

Therefore ‘Reclaiming’ the party, a sensible demand put forward notably by some of the awkward squad of TU leaders and previously pushed by many on the LP left, is not on the agenda at this stage.

The appraisal of the work of the Labour Left, expressed in the LRC, the Grassroots Alliance and the Campaign Group needs to begin now and a realignment of how they organise and orientate themselves with a view to reaching out to the huge layers of discontent amongst our natural allies in the UK working class. It will be a long and patient process.

Once the working class starts to challenge the power that the bosses have built for themselves in the last period, we could then see a shift that could develop the LP into a fighting organisation.

The organic link to the Trade Unions in this case has to be preserved in order for the effect of class struggle in the workplace to echo in the LP. Incidentally this process has historically happened before and there have been frequent filling up and emptying out of the mass Labour party with the pressure of workers pushing the party to the left.

It will be a slow process ,but while the debate on workers representation develops there seriously is a case for cutting the money supply from the TUs to the LP while protecting the affiliation and bringing TU sponsored MPs to account to implement their Unions policies. Simply leaving the party would be a disaster.

The direction of the LRC and demonstrated by John McDonnell in recent Morning Star articles is that the left should look outside of the structures of the Labour Party as it stands now, to reach out to broad based campaigns over environmental, trade union and local community issues. This is an entirely laudable and sensible approach with the huge potential of uniting large sections of the left from both inside and outside the LP. It will focus attention on the issues that matter to working people rather than the tired old method of trying to form a ‘new electoral initiative’ that in every attempt over the last 15 odd years has failed to gain votes or imploded into sectarian division.

My view is that we should unite and campaign around the serious issues that unite us 99% of the time and work separately the 1% of the time, in this case at elections, where we have disagreement over the role of the Labour Party.

This is not a contradictory position. I fully respect the Socialist Party or the Socialist Workers Party or any other group, in their attempts at forming new workers parties. Many good socialists and trade unionists have chosen this route and again I respect that.

I am not a syndicalist and totally support participation in elections where the vast majority of working people demand it and participate in it but I am tired of the debate that surrounds this issue of standing in elections, especially at a time when the interest in elections by working class people has fallen and will continue to fall, to an all time low. Consider the turnouts at local elections. Is it worth all that work?

I’ll tell you what. Can we agree to disagree and get on with the real task of supporting our communities, our public services and fellow trade unionists in their struggle against the dominant neo liberal agenda.

If the RMT, an affiliate of the LRC, choose to stand a candidate at the London local authority/ Mayor election that will be up to them. It shouldn’t be an issue that divides the LRC. There will probably be some LP members that will vote for ‘the socialist candidate’ while not outwardly campaigning for them. Similarly would the non Labour left support progressive socialist MPs like John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn where they stand because of the excellent role they play as socialists in Parliament. Would they campaign for them?

The class struggle doesn’t and shouldn’t stop at election times.

You can follow all aspects of the debate here at these excellent blogs.

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