The Convention of the Left meeting in Manchester near the New Labour conference yesterday adopted a “statement of intent” that is intended to sustain a framework of ongoing discussion on policies and actions over the next few months. A World to Win’s participants voted for the statement because it represents a step forward.
John McDonnell, one of the few MPs who have consistently resisted the New Labour government, was right to stress caution. An attempt to create a “left unity” or to launch a new electorally-oriented party would not only be premature but futile. The dilemmas facing the socialist movement require more than what would amount to cosmetic political window-dressing along these lines.
The challenges arise from the fact that the conventional routes to social and political progress are now more or less closed off. Labour being transformed into capitalist New Labour – in fact, it is the self-appointed bankers’ party – is only part of the story. Two other inter-related developments within the state raise even more problematic questions.
Firstly, in Britain the post-World War II so-called consensus, welfare state has been obliterated by successive Tory and New Labour governments. In turn, policies of governments express profound changes in the demands of the corporate-driven globalisation process. What we have now is an undemocratic, unashamedly business state under which parliamentary processes and political representation count for nothing.
The priorities of the business state are clear: save capitalism and its financial system at all costs, including mass unemployment, homelessness, reduced wages and social division, provoked by racist, anti-immigration statements and policies. The events of the last seven days, with the US government offering to buy up bad debts and New Labour facilitating the takeover of HBOS, is a graphic illustration of how this is working out.
The Convention’s statement of intent makes no mention of these questions. Nor does it refer to the crisis now spreading like a contagion from the financial sector to other areas of the economy. Most observers now acknowledge that the crash of 2008, which last week claimed banks in Britain and America (and yesterday saw the last two investment banks change their status to try and escape), is only just starting to unfold.
The statement’s strength lies in the admission that there are no simple answers, declaring: “We must find ways to develop and promote alternative positive policies and demands – of peace, social and environmental justice, public ownership, workers’ rights, civil liberties and equality. We must join together with all those seeking a better society, as an anti-capitalist left fighting for an alternative socialist society.” The Convention also wants to define ways of joint working and is calling for local Left Forums to continue the discussion.
This is a positive initiative. For our part, A World to Win will want to discuss how to take forward the struggle for democracy that in its time produced parliamentary representation, the Labour Party and major welfare reforms. The termination of that period of history is not a matter for regret but can be made into an opportunity to create a new democratic state as a platform for overturning an economic system that is plunging the world into a catastrophe.