If a new viable party of the left is not created within the next few months, then can the various components of the left at the very least create a united front to stand ONE list in the 2008 London elections?
Recent history suggests not. But maybe, with recent developments in the Labour Party and in the unions, the drive for a united challenge of the left may finally gain enough momentum to succeed.
Can the largest sections of the left, the RMT, Respect, left trade unionists, possibly former Labour lefts, the SP, the CNWP, CPB and others, agree to a united front, based on an agreed programme, and a single slate?
Being presented with numerous 'left' slates, all of which look similar and receive relatively low votes, will only demoralise those looking for a viable left alternative to Labour. This can only help the New Labour and the parties on the right - including the Fascist BNP.
Respect is best placed to get the highest left vote. But Respect alone cannot unite sections of the left, as well as individuals, who are currently warry, skeptical or critical of it. Respect has also been engulfed in a factional dispute recently - plunging it into crisis. This is documented at length elsewhere on the internet. However, a recent Respect NC Resolution suggests that it is about to turn outwards towards other forces in an open non-preconditioned manner, and this should be welcomed. What develops will be of great interest.
There are no sizable left-wing or working class parties in existance in Britain. There is a huge vacuum to the left currently unfilled. This is the background.
If, for example, we had a mass social-democratic party, a mass communist party, and maybe a medium sized radical left or Trotskyist party, and they all had serious levels of support, and assuming that they all had different programmes and strategies to promote, then it would be entirely understandable that they stand against each other in elections. They would be fighting for the leadership of the working class no less. It would still be entirely correct to fight for united action of all the parties and their members in the class struggle, and against the repressive actions of the state and against fascist parties. Maybe even some electoral collaboration would be possible depending on circumstances. But this is an entirely different dilema - far removed from today's situation.
In the current circumstances the main aim must be to create a viable left-wing party that can attract many thousands of members, bringing them together to organise as well as discuss and debate strategy and ideas. Such a party could become a pole of attraction to millions. The differences between the various components on the left are not unimportant. Many of these differences centre on the best way to build a new party and what programme it should stand on. But these differences are not so important as to justify not fighting for a united front of the left, especially at this stage.
Surely, all the components can at least agree on some key policies to fight an election around? True, this would be a compromise and would likely be a fairly basic programme. It might not explicitly fight for a socialist society even, although I'd hope it would do. Certainly there is no reason for it not to do so. Some contentious issues may have to be left out, for example, the question of the EU, or even the entire issue of standing for Mayor against Ken Livingstone.
A united front of the left does not mean that the various components are not free to propagate their own views. They can raise whatever criticisms they like. They could, for example, stand for Mayor seperately from other components of the united front if they so wished, or alternatively, they could call for a vote for Ken. They could all critique and supplement the policies with their own - and argue them openly.
A united front would mean a compromise. All components would have to make concessions. But this is necessary to present a unified left-wing challenge to the capitalist parties. A good vote for a unified left-wing slate, even on a very basic working-class socialist programme, would be a far greater step forwards than modest to poor votes for a few left-wing slates. Who knows, a successful electoral united front that attracted thousands of workers towards it could even lead towards greater unity and the creation of a new party of the left.
Respect, the RMT, current and former Labour lefts, the CNWP, the SP, the SLP, the CPB and others should start discussions straight away.
Surely these components and others can agree on a programme that includes policies such as; a massive building programme of affordable and social housing; no to privatisation of the tube - bring all public transport back into public ownership; an end to all privatisation in the public sector; for the renationalisation of the railways and the other privatised utilities; massive public investment into the NHS; complete and immediate withdrawl from Iraq and Afghanistan; no to war on iran; for a decent minimum wage of at least £7 an hour without exemptions; for trade union freedom - repeal anti-union laws; defend civil liberties - no to ID cards; against racism, sexism, homophobia and all discrimination; tax the super-rich and big business to increase funding for public services; and many more besides...
Sure, this is very basic - and just my own unworked out suggestions. But you get the idea. Key demands that all components agree to are more than possible. They could go much much further than those above and be far more detailed. This is for negotiations and discussions to agree on.
I would hope that they would all be able to agree on wording to the effect of 'for a democratic socialist society in britain and internationally'. Yes, that's really vague. The components have different ideas about what socialism is, how you get it, whether it's a break from capitalism or not, and so on. They can all debate this is their own propaganda, at meetings, on the door-step or wherever they like. But the point of a socialist 'clause' in any programme is to acknowledge the fight for an alternative form of society - namely socialism. At least this would make a start at re-promoting the notion and the very word socialism - after so many years in decline.
A united front is necessary, especially at this stage when there is no viable left-wing party and we are struggling to establish one. To borrow a well used phrase, the forces of the left need to unite and fight around the 80% we agree on, whilst discussing and debating the other 20%. The more sucessful we are in developing a mass party of the left - the more people we will be able to discuss and debate the 20% with! It's well worth remembering that ideas only gain material force when they are accepted by a mass of people. The fight for ideas in a mass party will therefore be of vital importance for those who want to achieve a socialist society.