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Building a new workers party 

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In this archive written in 1995 on the need for a mass workers party, it is possible to exchange Tony Blair’s name for Keir Starmer. The same questions apply. In the 1990s, there were many attempts to build a new workers’ party, accompanied by many mistakes. It is essential to know the history and learn from the mistakes.

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Bill Hunter

We believe that Britain is entering a situation where masses of the population will be going into struggle against capitalist exploitation and decay and considering quite realistically the building of a new political organisation to express their needs.

The questions which follow are: how does Trotskyism participate in these essentially anti-capitalist movements for change and the trends toward revolutionary consciousness which are coming up? How does it pass from being an organisation with mainly propaganda work to a party of the Bolshevik character that Lenin described in Left Wing Communism? This was a party that was looked to by masses of workers, not just for good analysis (which is extremely important), but for correct political strategy and tactics and led workers as a party in activity on the political questions of the day.

A new party will come out of the movement of that class. The main question concerning the new party thus involves how we turn into the mass movements of the workers and how we tackle questions that involve them. The answer to this central question begins by assessing the principal actions that are taking place among the working class in Britain. We believe that it is only flowing from those assessments that there can be any meaningful discussion about the prospects for a new party and about what sort of party it will, and can, be.

Thatcher’s strategy

The state in Britain assisted capitalism after WWII by taking over bankrupt major industries, compensating the former owners, unleashing private capital and creating new markets. Again, the capitalist state has assisted the capitalist class in the past two decades by subsidising with public funds and government legislation. The purchase of former nationalised industries sold off cheaply to create a bonanza for private capitalists. Privatisation opened up a vast area of speculation, corruption, and profit-making and increased the domination of a small number of financial and manufacturing capitalist combines.

In the 1970s, Margaret Thatcher and a group in the Tory party leadership took over the Tory party, representing the wing of the new rich who were making fortunes in the significant expansion of fictitious capital and who wanted to wage war against the organisations of the working class.

An offensive against the working class was seriously prepared. The offensive aimed to alter the relationship of forces between capitalism and the organised working class. With the capitulations of trade union leaders, it scored some successes, particularly in the 1980s.

Thatcher and a reactionary crowd of monetarists attacked the “nanny state”, but that was because this is their state, and the assistance must go first and foremost to them. These attacks are part of their class war. While imposing legislation cutting welfare benefits, they assist the profitable ventures and speculative excursions of the rich and very rich.

The State and government set their sights on destroying the most vital sections of workers even at the expense of the manufacturing industry and the mines. The central strategy of British capitalism and indeed capitalism throughout the world is to smash down the costs of labour power.

The fight against Thatcher poses the question – who controls

There is a widespread feeling now against privatisation, attacks on health and education, against quangos and the anti-democratic institutions of capitalism, against the corruption among parliamentary representatives and in capitalist institutions with the greed and hypocrisy among the capitalist owners of businesses and banks.

The democratic rights of the mass of the population in Britain, that is, their legal rights to organise themselves, their rights against oppressive actions by their employers, and their rights to vote, came out of a series of many bitter and bloody struggles against the British ruling class.

The crisis in society brings forward problems of immediate struggle against attacks on the weakest sections of society and general conditions about democracy, culture, privilege, corruption, polarisation of wealth, and other general questions on the nature of society and on nature itself. Questions of control and power are posed.

The central conclusion of the 1938 Transitional Programme of the Fourth International demands our recognition today. The “partial, minimal demands of the masses clash with the destructive and degrading tendencies of decadent capitalism”.

While more and more people are seeing the nature of this class-ridden, corrupt society as dangerous to the health and well being of the majority of its inhabitants and to our children’s employment and education, Blair and Company embrace completely the capitalist ideology on which Thatcherism is based. The declarations of Blair and Brown to meetings of financiers and speculators in the City of London that they intend to be tough are meant to convince the capitalist class that under their government, the state would steadfastly continue to carry out capitalist measures to assist capitalism at the expense of the mass of the population.

The nature of the new party

Under today’s conditions, the question of a new party is for large sections of the class which face the need to struggle in a situation where the crisis in society is posing not only problems of immediate struggle against attacks crucifying the weakest sections of society, but general conditions about democracy, culture, privilege, corruption, polarisation of wealth and other general questions arising from capitalist decline.

We have to start with seeking to assess the movement of the mass of the working class in Britain and sections of the petty-bourgeois and middle class who are being brought face to face quite drastically against the sharpest expressions of capitalist decay. How can we attract a broad swathe of people moving toward socialist demands, internationalism and want a party that will fight back against the effects of capitalism and its greed, parasitism, and corruption?

We have to discuss: What is a principled programme that could bring together the broadest possible anti-capitalist movement without giving up one jot of our principles to enable us to participate closely with others moving in a revolutionary direction?

We should be discussing the history and considerations of the Marxist movement during periods like this: the concrete development of the Labour party as an organisation which came out of the need of workers for a political expression but which leapt to an expression of internationalism with the intervention of Eleanor Marx and Engels’ group. The Marxist British Socialist Party was affiliated with the Labour Party and to the Second International before the Labour Party. (Indeed, it moved the affiliation of the Labour Party at an International Congress of the Second International where Hyndman of the Social Democratic Federation opposed it and Lenin supported it).

The new party, in our opinion, must be posed as bringing together anti-capitalist forces which can rapidly develop in the future.

Our aim must be a relationship with the working class, which must be made through all stages of its development, bringing the type of party that can take the workers to power. But that must go through several steps – if we are not just to be sectarian propagandists – of principled alliances, united activity, fusions etc., of various degrees of agreement and programme. And in which we maintain our principled positions on which we differ from our allies.

Our discussion now must be on the preparation for such a party, conducting a dialogue with those coming into struggle, on the minimum programme on which it can be formed. It must be like an Alliance/Party of workers. We should call on the traditions at the formation of the Labour Party, other parties in the Second International, such as the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, and workers’ parties, such as the Workers Party of Brazil, which was formed as a party in which tendencies officially existed. One of our propositions for this party must be the right of tendencies to operate inside it.

It would be a party that stands for internationalism, and we would fight inside it for the Fourth international. It should stand for a workers’ government laying down a socialist foundation with a nationalisation policy and workers’ control. It must be for the defence of multi-ethnic communities, immigrants and asylum seekers. It would be for the immediate renationalisation of railways, water, gas and electricity. It should have a policy of taxing the rich and helping the disabled and the poor, with priority for a health service run by committees based on representatives of GPs, hospital staff, unions and communities; restoration of student grants, real training for the youth at work with a living wage, paid for by employers and a policy against unemployment, with public works on full wages and an education policy drawn up by parents, teachers and communities.

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