Whither LU?

Labour is not the only party holding its 2016 annual conference in Liverpool. Left Unity will have its conference there at the end of October. The Left Unity party will not succeed unless it redefines its aims, strategy and programme. If it continues promoting the “Spirit of 45” it will not survive and will not deserve to survive. Whilst the Labour Party is undergoing its own internal ‘revolution’, Left Unity must show it too can change. It has to become a different kind of party or fade away.

Thirty years of neo-liberal politics from Thatcher to New Labour have left the UK ripe for radical democratic change. It is not just electoral reform. The whole Westminster system has failed. Westminster style parliamentary democracy works for the political class. The constitution of the ‘Crown-in-Parliament’, with its massive centralisation of state power in the hands of the Crown and its Ministers, ensures the policies of the City and major corporations are imposed on the people.

The bureaucratic power of the Crown, fronted by Thatcher, Blair and Cameron, has been disastrous for the health and welfare of the people. This has produced a widespread anger against Westminster politics as such. Since 2008 the long fermenting dissatisfaction with the political system has become sharper. Poor election turnouts have shown how little confidence people have that voting can change anything. In 2014 Scotland came close to leaving the UK. In 2016, angry voters in England and Wales voted to exit the European Union, blamed for the democratic deficit.

If the political system is broken it has been unable to reform itself. The UK needs a democratic revolution, the means by which the people outside parliament are mobilised to take power. People must force radical democratic change against the vested interests in Westminster and Whitehall. Real democracy, not least in England, needs an alternative to the corrupt politics in the Palace of Westminster.

Consistent democracy is not an end in itself. In England it is the means by which a real social democracy – the Commonwealth of England – can be won, in alliance with democratic forces in the rest of the British Isles. The problem lies with the left in England which does not fight for a democratic programme or mobilise for a democratic revolution. It is wedded to the politics of Labour.

The Labour Party is not and never has been the party of democratic revolution. It is not and has never been a republican socialist party. It has always been a party of social reform working through the Crown-in-Parliament and dependant on the bureaucracy of the Crown. Labour’s greatest period of social reform was a response to massive popular support for change as a result of war time radicalisation. It was channelled through His Majesty’s Labour government (1945-50), a safe space for the ruling class.

Left Unity was one political response to New Labour – defending the ideas of ‘Old Labour’, socialist Labour and the ‘Spirit of 1945’. Between 1996 and 2010 those who wanted to fight New Labour publicly and electorally, rather than purely internally, tried to build a socialist Labour Party on the outside. Beginning with Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party, it went on to the Socialist Alliance, and Respect. It ended with the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition and Left Unity.

In 2015 it came as a great surprise to Jeremy Corbyn to find himself the leader of the Labour Party. Suddenly the idea of socialist Labour and the ‘Spirit of 45’ came alive inside the Labour Party. Now with Corbyn’s second and bigger victory, the politics of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition and Left Unity have been overtaken by events.

The writing was on the wall last year when Corbyn was first elected leader. In Liverpool, Left Unity has to ask fundamental questions about the world after the Scottish and EU referenda and the rise of Corbyn. What is the Left Unity party now for? As the membership of LU shrinks, the same questions from last year’s conference repeat themselves. Can LU become a different kind of party, a militant republican socialist party, the party of democratic revolution? In Liverpool we will see whether LU has any real future in the new world now unfolding.

Steve Freeman
Left Unity and Rise

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