Editor’s Note: The question of a new party of the working class has arisen a number times since the 1990s. This archive from Bill Hunter deals with the fundamental issues of how a new party could be build out of the class struggle and what the main principles should be.
A discussion on whether there was a need for a new socialist party was in progress among trade union and socialist activists before 4 November 1995 when Arthur Scargill published his: “Future Strategy for the Left” – a discussion paper on the consequences of the Labour Party conference, October 1995.
In this he called for a socialist party of Labour, correctly declaring that Blair and the New Labour Party had “abandoned socialism and any commitment to common ownership”.
Subsequently, the progress – or lack of progress – of the Socialist Labour Party, has shown that Arthur Scargill’s basic conceptions and methods of building an alternative party of the working class are profoundly wrong and owe more to Stalin than Lenin and Marx.
However, his document in 1995 and the formation of the Socialist Labour Party had some importance in so far as he led the most important strike in Britain since the Second World War in which all the repressive organs of the state, government and leading circles of the capitalist class and the media moguls, united to defeat the miners, and he won a certain prestige among a wide section of militants.
He and other miners have been proved absolutely correct in his exposure over many years of a pit closure programme built on class hatred and the desire to destroy the most powerfully organised section of the British working class with long traditions of struggle.
But the central importance of the discussion on the new party does not rest on the actions of Scargill.
The discussion comes out of important movements in the working class and those wide sections of the population who are looking into the abyss.
They see there the prospect of a descent into a grim future in regard to employment, health education, old age and security. New Labour has effectively deprived this majority of the population of their political expression.
For decades the right wing of the Labour Party conducted a battle to remove Clause Four, which was added to the constitution of the Labour Party at the end of the First World War and was based upon a resolution carried by a Labour Party Conference in 1905, when it still had the name of Labour Representation Committee (LRC):
“The Annual Conference of the L.R.C. hereby declares that its ultimate objective shall be the obtaining for the workers the full results of their labour by the overthrow of the present competitive system of Capitalism and the institution of a system of public ownership of all the means of production, distribution and exchange”.
In the 1950s, Hugh Gaitskell campaigned to abolish Clause Four and was soundly defeated. As we said in our pamphlet written in 1994, Clause 4 and the Struggle for Public Ownership:
“What is involved, therefore, in Blair’s increasingly frenzied attacks on the supporters of Clause 4 is his desire, and that of other party leaders, to remove the last vestige of socialism from the Labour Party. But more than that, important though their attack on socialist aspirations may be, they want to destroy the Labour Party as a party representing the working class and remove any trace of its origins as a party coming out of the struggle of exploited and oppressed masses of people for a political representation.
“It was the great drive to organisation of the poorest, most deprived sections of society at the end of the last century that brought about the Labour Party. Now, it is the poorest and most oppressed sections who are being disenfranchised.”
Who politically represents and really fights for the unemployed and the homeless? We asked.
Who politically represents and really fights for the old, the sick and disabled?
Who represents and politically fights for the young?
Who politically represents and fights for the dockers of Liverpool who are opposing the return of casualisation of the docks?
Blair speaks for none of these people. Who gives political representation to those trade unionists who are suffering political repression today?
The laws against secondary picketing and the laws against union organisation in the work place were political class acts against the organised workers in many ways, far worse than the Taff Vale judgment and the attacks on workers’ organisations which stimulated the desire for political representation at the beginning of the century. Blair is for continuing them!
No wonder that the Liverpool dockers shop steward, engaged in a bitter struggle for trade union organisation among Britain’s dock-workers, began his speech at a meeting to discuss the new party in December by saying: “we are in the position we were a hundred years ago”.
With all their Disraelian hypocrisy about, one nation, Toryism, the Conservative Party, always was a party of the governing class.
Now it is clear that there is no difference between Blair’s New Labour and Mrs Thatcher so far as a refusal to represent the deprived and oppressed sections of the country is concerned.
In 1994 the ISL declared that:
“Blair travels thousands of miles to discuss with Murdoch in Australia but when does he ever go to talk to the homeless in the streets not a few hundred yards from the Palace of Westminster.
When did he seek and listen to the opinions of youth unemployed, of dockers, or single mothers etc?”
“Blair and Company embrace completely the capitalist ideology on which Thatcherism is based.
The declarations of Blair and Brown to meetings of financiers and speculators in the City of London that they intend to be tough were meant to convince the capitalist class that under their government, the state would steadfastly continue to carry out capitalist measures to assist capitalism at the expense of the mass of the population.”
Before the 1997 election it was clear that Blair and his band of middle class philistines would get votes, not because of “New Labour” policies but because of hatred of Tories and desire for a change and increasing opposition to capitalist anarchy and privilege.
The need for a new mass workers party is overwhelming but we have to recognise that it cannot be imposed. The new labour party must come out of the disenfranchised just as the original Labour Party was formed as a political expression of the working class after the big upsurge of union organization at the end of the nineteenth century. Therefore the question of building is to go to the deprived, go to those in struggle, to seek a unity of those who are struggling at whatever level against capitalism and its effects.
Further a centralisation cannot be imposed on this movement. We are convinced that a democratic centralised party will be necessary to bring victory against capitalism but together with that we have another belief: that such a party must be one that has won the majority of the working class with a discipline based on conviction which can only come from struggle and experience.
Our criticism of Scargill is that he tries to jump over the problems and appears to want a ready worked solution decided by a small circle.
We have to first find the anti-capitalist demands which unite the various sections who come into sharp struggle with anti-capitalist aims born out of the decay of capitalism and its culture.
The democratic rights of the mass of the population in Britain; their legal rights to organise themselves, their rights against oppressive actions by their employers as well as their rights to vote, came out of a serious of many times bitter and bloody struggles against British ruling class.
All these have been thoroughly undermined together with the destruction of the powers of councils and the development of unelected and profitable quangos.
The crisis in society brings forward, not only problems of immediate struggle against attacks on weakest sections of society but general conditions in relation to democracy, culture, privilege, corruption, polarisation of wealth and other general questions of the nature of society. Questions of control and power are posed.
Under today’s conditions the question of a new party is going to be something for large sections of the class which faces the need for struggle in a situation where the crisis in society is posing not only problems of immediate struggle against attacks crucifying the weakest sections of society, but general conditions in relation to democracy, culture, privilege, corruption, polarisation of wealth and other general questions arising from capitalist decline.
The party could attract those who want a party which will fight back against the effects of capitalism, and its greed, parasitism and corruption.
The new party must link together any militant political forces in the unions and communities. It could be in the nature of an Alliance/Party of workers.
We think there could be an alliance for struggle among various movements on a programme like the following: for a workers’ government laying down a socialist foundation with a policy of nationalisation and workers’ control.
For the defence of multi-ethnic communities, immigrants and asylum seekers.
For the immediate re-nationalisation of railways, water, gas and electricity.
For a policy of taxing the rich and helping the disabled and the poor, with priority for a health service run by committees based on representatives of GPs, hospital staff, unions and communities.
Restoration of student grants, real training for the youth at work with a living wage, paid for by employers and a policy against unemployment, with public works on full wages and an education policy drawn up by parents, teachers and communities.
It should stand for the repeal of anti-union laws, the struggle for democratic rights, the abolition of quangos, of the Criminal Justice Act and the Defence Against Terrorism.