Positioning yourself to the left of One Nation Labour, as it now prefers to be known, is an easy enough task. Building a new party that can mount a successful electoral challenge to Ed Miliband’s austerity-lite “responsible capitalism” crew is more fraught.
Left Unity, launched at a weekend conference, has set out along a parliamentary road which many others continue to tramp. It’s a crowded space that already includes the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Respect and the Socialist Labour Party.
An initiative launched by former members of Respect, leading ex-members of the Socialist Workers Party and other organisations, with film director Ken Loach, Left Unity has expressed the desire for a change and a way out of a political logjam.
The impasse is not, however, simply the result of the convergence of the three mainstream parties around the imperatives of the capitalist market economy, which stubbornly remains in recession. The blockage is also a constitutional one, with the parliamentary state a clear obstacle to further social progress.
Disengagement, dissatisfaction, distaste, despair, disgust – they all express the degree to which a majority of new generations and a substantial minority of older people have switched off from the present political process. You can’t say it often enough but that’s why Russell Brand’s tirade against the system has had 10 million views on YouTube.
Although couched in negative terms, these sentiments present an historic opportunity to advocate a revolutionary political roadmap. It’s a moment to put forward new forms of real democracy, participatory and direct, that go beyond the compromised representative system and to debate how we get from A to B.
Left Unity, unfortunately, passed up that chance. A clear majority favoured a “broad left”, non-revolutionary approach that sidelines the vital issue of the state and political democracy. The new party hopes, instead, to capture votes from disillusioned Labour supporters at the next election. Some even see the party as a the “left’s Ukip” in its potential to win votes from the disaffected.
This is a fundamental misjudgement of where we are today. Instead of reinforcing the parliamentary status quo by proposing a “left” version of what we have already, this is a historic opportunity to put forward alternatives for a different relationship of state to people. That means a different kind of state altogether. Not of voters who have no power – a democracy in name only – but where people can determine their own futures within a new constitutional settlement.
In Scotland, the constitutional issue has come to the fore as a result of the independence campaign, which Steve Freeman pointed out in moving his Republican Socialist platform. A movement has emerged around the referendum which is faced with what kind of constitution Scotland should have if it is to achieve an independence which is anything more than a transfer of power to another elite.
Throughout Europe, the capitalist state has enforced austerity, sometimes relying on the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank to browbeat elected governments. Repeated general strikes in Greece and elsewhere have failed to dent this arrangement. Coalitions of the left like Syrizia in Greece (which Left Unity sees as an example to follow) have failed to distinguish themselves .
The plain fact is that support for all political parties is plummeting, partly because they are identified with the status quo. Increasing numbers clearly feel that the existing parliamentary parties have little relevance to the realities of their life and that voting will not change things.
This has created a crisis of legitimacy for the existing political structures and therefore for the state itself. That process was behind the formation of the Occupy and movements in Spain, Brazil, Turkey and the Arab Spring itself.
The major challenge for all of us, not just Left Unity, is to deepen our understanding of where we are in history, analysing the diverse impacts of corporate-driven globalisation on politics, the economy and the eco-system and demonstrating how a return to the Labour of 1945 is impossible.
We have an obligation to put forward comprehensive alternatives whose content is a transition beyond capitalism. Thinking about and working on what kind of democratic, networked organisations are needed to reflect these aspirations and support their achievement is where we should direct our energy.
Corinna Lotz and Paul Feldman