I have received the following response to my previous blog from Dave Green in Northampton. I have decided to publish it in full in order to encourage further discussion and debate.
Let’s not settle for the best of a bad bunch in the next election – We should stand against the Tories, the Lib Dems and Labour – against cuts and privatisations & for socialist alternatives.
It would seem to me that radicalism and the left in Britain have never been so weak and capitalism so strong and unchallenged. The Stalinist project in east Europe - where state controlled, bureaucratic, undemocratic systems claimed to be socialist - has failed leaving lasting disillusion in the east and west. Parallel to that collapse we have the implosion of social democracy in the west and in the UK particularly with the craven capitulation of the labour party to thatcherism and the free market. The old layer of militants are adrift and there is no viable socialist project to argue and organise around in the unions and the party. All of this is deeply depressing and yet people still have to fight back and argue for change as they face cutbacks and attacks on their living standards from all of the parties – and we can all still win some victories as we begin the fightback.
We in ‘Save Our Public Services’ in Northampton have tried to fight back and have initiated and supported campaigns on a host of issues and against the many cuts and privatisations that have been introduced by New Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems - whilst at the same time arguing that ordinary people should not pay for this crisis by bailing out bankers, a failing economic system and corrupt politicians. SOS in alliance with others has brought hundreds onto the streets against attacks on the vulnerable, campaigned successfully against the privatisation of council housing and the NHS and exposed the massive PFI scandal that is the Northampton schools PFI scheme. We have done that consistently over the last few years at street stalls, with tens of thousands of leaflets, at meetings, in the council chambers and at elections.
I would argue socialists have to do that consistently irrespective of which party is implementing the neo-liberal agenda nationally or locally - as to do otherwise is to betray what we believe in. If Labour began the sell off of old peoples homes in this county and brought in the PFI scheme that makes us pay 3 times the real cost of the schools and hands over hiring etc to private financiers (see website for figures and exposure), then we should say so and campaign against those attacks – not pull our punches because the tories might be worse. We need to build an independent base for progressive politics against those who implement these pro capitalist/market policies.
I would argue that in Northampton the 2009 local election results of the SOS candidates was the most successful and significant vote of any independent forces by far and shows the real way forward. It was not a vote or campaign of supporting the best of a bad bunch of pro-thatcherite politicians. In Duston we trounced the Labour party and helped reduce their vote to 350 from a previous 1600 and gained 950 ourselves to lose to the tories by only 61 votes. That was a fantastic vote - in that ward we got more votes than any Labour, Green or Independent, winning or losing candidate in all of Northampton. Standing like this against the concensus is a way of building an alternative support for anti-thatcherite radical ideas and shows we don’t have to accept the third rate toryism of New Labour. The support we gained was achieved by consistent non-sectarian campaigning and arguing our message and not by trimming our ideas to the powers that be. People know our political system is in a crisis - let’s not be part of it.
The democratic radical left should recover its nerve and be prepared to fight for a fuller democracy in our society, for a fair distribution of wealth and set itself resolutely against the rich and the powerful and their interests. It should be militant (I don’t mean like the old ’Militant’) and fight for self organisation in our everyday activities, for our interests - in the unions against un-elected £50-100,000 time serving bureaucrats and their partnership working, and for direct action at work, and in the community for popular interests against the financially powerful and their politicians. The argument that we should attempt to change the Labour party is long dead, the labour party itself is dead as a tool for radical social change and we need a realignment of forces of the anti capitalist left along the lines that has happened in Germany and elsewhere. In Europe credible alternatives have been built by those leaving the corpse of those parties like New Labour, in alliance with the non sectarian left outside and community activists. Leave New Labour to the careerists and bureaucrats, whilst standing against them in campaigns in the unions, in the community and in elections.
The work of building a credible alternative left organisation, alliance or party in the UK is only just beginning as people search for an alternative. To strengthen that push we need mainly to organise in the communities and on employment and other issues, to mobilise people around ideas that confront the neo liberal agenda and give people confidence that we can effect change. Electioneering in spite of its importance is alone not enough. Supporting any progressive candidate, be it Tony Clarke or anyone else, is not enough as we reinforce the idea that individuals alone can change society. It is important to fight around policies and to try to involve and change people’s minds. If we’re honest Tony was a supporter of the Blair project and government, never opposed the overall thrust of New Labour’s approach and would still be the official Labour candidate if there hadn’t been a bust up over the rules for selecting candidates at a local level.
The next election outcome will likely be very depressing. The old sectarian left is a block to building a coherent democratic left and should be sidelined. We need an alliance of those who will campaign and organise on the issues affecting people - like services, social housing, welfare, better conditions at work and against cuts and privatisations. An alliance that will not be afraid to stand against all other parties in elections and which will work to rebuild a strong radical alternative to capitalism. Let’s discuss setting up such an alliance to support campaigns, take direct action and stand candidates in local and national elections as soon as possible in many wards and constituencies of Northamptonshire. The next few years could see massive discontent and political upheavals. Lets be careful we don’t find ourselves accepting the lesser evil, but let’s try and intervene to build an alternative and to gain support for radical ideas that we develop as we actively oppose the neo-liberal agenda.
Dave Green – (This article represents Dave’s personal views)
For further info on ‘Save Our Public Services’ go to: http://www.saveourpublicservices.org