A discussion piece by Geoff Gay. 09.05.13.
I want to draw attention to two current political movements, the People’s Assembly Against Austerity (PAAA) and Left Unity, either or both of which may turn out to be highly significant for the future of the British political left.
The People’s Assembly was generated by the Coalition of Resistance whose President is Tony Benn. Numerous well-knowns have put their name to it, including many trade union leaders, Green MP Caroline Lucas, a handful of Labour MPs, film maker Ken Loach, writer Owen Jones and comedian Mark Steel.
They have an event in Nottingham on Saturday May 18th, 10.30 – 5.00 at the Friends Meeting House on Clarendon St ( about 10 minutes’ walk from the Old Market Square ). I have to say that the website for this event, at which you can register to attend, is not good in that it seems to want to hide the exact details of the event. Then there is the big London event at Central Hall, Westminster on Saturday June 22nd, 9.30 – 5.00. You can attend this as an individual or as a delegate from a trade union body or other organisation. There is a delegate fee of £10 for delegates, or, for individuals, £8 waged or £4 unwaged.
Left Unity was initiated by Ken Loach, director of “The Spirit of 45” and is evidently a movement aimed at building a new political party of the broad left.
I would like to explain my motivation for promoting these initiatives, both historically and leading up to the present :
I was an active member of the Communist Party of Great Britain from 1966 through to its final Congress in 1991. From 1951 onwards, the central concept of the CPGB programme, The British Road to Socialism ( developed in the face of a great deal of disruptive internal opposition ) was that of the Broad Democratic Alliance, based on the objective reality that the interests of something like 95% of the population lie in uniting around a counter-hegemonic strategy involving the radical extension of democracy paving the way for replacing free-market capitalism by a fairer, more equal, more participative society ( which we called “Socialism” ). I still take the view that this strategy is on the right track, at least in its concept and its essence.
In 1993, I joined the Labour Party , represented Labour as a councillor from 1999 to 2011, and even had a period as Constituency Secretary. I have never felt really at home in the early 21st Century version of the Labour Party , dominated as it is locally by middle class do-gooders and nationally by largely middle class career politicians, and obsessed as it still is by gaining local and national “power” through the first-past-the-post electoral system which forces any party which sees itself as the main vehicle for a more progressive ( or at least less reactionary ) politics to gravitate towards “safety” as opposed to any kind of radicalism. The only radical Labour government was that of 1945-51, in the very one-off circumstances following two world wars, punctuated, for a large proportion of the population, by a period of grinding poverty and deprivation.
During the current period, in which the Labour Party has been absorbed by neo-liberalism ,
( is “One Nation Labour” any less of a vacuous slogan than “New Labour” ? ) there have been numerous attempts to challenge the “safety” position, most of which have been doomed to failure by their sectarianism. I find myself much closer to the position of the Green Party than to mainstream Labour politics, but, as the Greens do not seem capable of making an electoral breakthrough on a national scale, I still have more reason to stay in the Labour Party than to leave it. I went through a period of believing that the future of the British left lay in some sort of alliance consisting of different forces in different places – the Greens here, Respect there, TUSC * somewhere else, the SNP, PC and Sinn Fein in their respective nations, and so on. Compass has probably been the most influential of the left pressure groups, but it is only a pressure group, not a political party contesting elections.
But now, please refer to my previous article “A Gramscian Party” inspired by a talk by Richard Johnson. Antonio Gramsci understood the need for a counter-hegemonic strategy, as opposed to the sort of pragmatic and anti-theoretical Labour position. If the Labour Party is incapable of becoming a Gramscian party, then the initiative will have to come from elsewhere. I had thought that the PAAA was the best bet, and I still think that it is an important broad left initiative. But, again, the PAAA seems to be more of a pressure group on the austerity issue than an embryonic Gramscian party. So perhaps the Left Unity movement ( which I had not even heard of until very recently ) is now the better bet. I would urge readers to investigate the websites of both these organisations.
* Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition – the brainchild of the ex-Trotskyist “Socialist Party” .