Following the recent elections in which the Labour vote plumbed new depths and the British National Party sensationally won two seats in the European parliament the Socialist Workers Party (9/6/9) addressed an "open letter to the left."
The SWP is worried about the Nazis, concerned about a possible Conservative government, and anxious that the revelations of MPs' corruption have put people off voting Labour. It thinks that there should be a "single, united left alternative" and that the left should "urgently start a debate" in advance of the next general election. Accordingly it is "prepared to help initiate" a conference "of all those committed to presenting candidates representing working class interests at the next election."
The ‘open letter' has proved very popular among leftists. The Weekly Worker (11/6/9) welcomed the initiative, although it thought the SWP would have to "publicly account for the disastrous mistakes of the past." Workers Power (10/6/9) also welcomed the proposal: "The dangerous reality is that the fascists have formed a party while the socialists have not. All the socialist groups in Britain are propaganda societies, not parties." The Alliance for Workers Liberty (10/6/9) welcomed the letter and said it was in line with their "call for a new Socialist Alliance". The Socialist Party of England and Wales (24/6/9) (that used to be Militant) took a dim view of the SWP's idea in the light of its previous experience. But they were still able to say to their comrades that "if you have reassessed and changed your methods, and are now willing to work together with others towards the creation of ‘a socialist alternative' for the general election, we will of course welcome this."
Leftist unity ... against the working class
Apart from all the various quibbles and nitpicking the one thing that already unites the leftist groups is their commitment to basically the same approach, the same politics. For example, in its letter the SWP ask how it would be possible to ask workers to vote for people like Pat McFadden the man who is "pushing through the privatisation of the post office." All the leftists oppose privatisation, that is to say they defend nationalisation, defend the Royal Mail - the very body that militant postal workers have been fighting for years.
The SWP say that "If Cameron is elected he will attempt to drive through policies of austerity at the expense of the vast majority of the British people". This is quite clearly the case, except it ignores the most obvious reality that a Conservative government will be in complete continuity with the current Labour government. Yet the leftists warn about the Right being worse than the Left and of course the BNP is the worst of all. From the point of view of the working class it is necessary to remember that the massacre of jobs and all the other attacks on our living standards during the last 12 years have been under a Labour government, not under Tories or Nazis.
The leftists also agree that capitalist elections can be used to present a ‘left wing alternative.' The past experience of the Socialist Alliance and Respect show that they always try to give capitalist democracy some credibility, while putting forward their idea on how best to run British capitalism.
Workers Power said of the groups of the left "in a sense we are factions of a party that is yet to be built." They all have their factional differences, but at one level they are in agreement, on the need to strengthen state capitalism, on the need to defend the unions that help keep the working class divided. In an article in the same issue of Socialist Worker as its ‘open letter' the SWP says that the Labour Party has "abandoned ordinary people and gone on the offensive against them". This is true to the extent that from the time of the First World War the parties of social democracy lined up with the capitalist class, recruited for the war effort, imposed labour discipline throughout the conflict and have been serving their national capitals ever since. The impression given by the leftists is that the Labour Party was somehow acceptable until quite recently. That is to say, the Labour Party was OK when its rhetoric was left of centre.
Filling a gap in the political spectrum
What the leftists in Britain are doing when they respond positively to the SWP's appeal is similar to a process that's already underway elsewhere in Europe. In Germany with the Linkspartei and in France with the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste we have seen new parties created to fill a gap on the left. With the world wide imposition of austerity measures there is a great potential for a response from the working class. The bourgeoisie internationally knows that it has to have political forces that can present a false alternative in the face of workers' struggle, and that its current line-ups are not all up to the job.
A party like the Labour Party could once pose as ‘socialist' or at least parade a set of left-wingers. Now they don't even pretend to be a party of the working class. As for the leftists, in many countries they are mere shadows of what they were in the 1970s and 80s. Whatever comes of the SWP's latest project it shows that at least some on the left are aware of the function they need to fulfil for capitalism. The working class should not be taken in by this latest attempt at a makeover.