Yes, Corbyn should launch a new left party, but what kind?
Socialist Alternative welcomes the news that former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn may be considering establishing a new left party, on behalf of which he would stand at the next general election as Labour will stand against him.
There is no shortage of support for left-wing ideas. Up to half a million people joined the Labour party under his leadership, around half of which have left since Starmer took his place. Labour gained 2 million votes in 2017 and would have won the election if the campaign had continued longer, or started sooner.
Socialist Alternative believes that founding a new party should have been done already. Some people fear ‘splitting the anti-Tory vote’, but while a new party should definitely be about defending Corbyn’s seat and could be an important starting point for developing an electoral alternative to the mainstream capitalist parties, it should not be only, or even primarily, about standing candidates. It should be a means to organise, discuss, mobilise, and bring together the hundreds of thousands who see themselves as socialists with the numerous recent movements against the effects of capitalism on working-class and young people.
The next general election is scheduled for May 2024 but could come sooner if the Tories implode. No time can be lost in preparing to defend Corbyn’s seat, which means no time should be wasted in founding the political vehicle to do that. ‘Peace and Justice Party’ isn’t the best name, but the name isn’t the most important thing. What matters is what kind of party it is, and on this there has to be a total break with the worst aspects of Labour old and new. A genuine socialist party is a vehicle for mass struggle.
That means it has to be open and democratic, based on mass meetings, elected organisers and leaders, a democratic voice for trade unions, and clear socialist principles. What’s more, such an organisation would need tobe present on every demonstration and picket line, active in every struggle of working-class, young and oppressed people. Obviously Corbyn would be the natural choice for leader, but there can be no repeat of the Momentum experience, which was an organisation set up as a limited company run by a secretive and largely self-appointed clique.
Clear policies are needed. After the 2017 general election we had the fog of Brexit. Then we have had the pandemic and the attempts by the right-wing to whip up fear and reactionary attitudes. We have also had the huge resurgence of the climate movement, massive protests against gender-based violence, and a new resurgence in strikes. Reacting to multiple crises, the Tories have had to massively increase state spending wholly in the interests of big business.
Socialist policies needed
A new alternative can cut through the confusion and appeal to young and working-class people. Clear policies are needed, such as a £15 minimum wage, secure tenancies and affordable rents, secure contracts at work, an end to misogyny and racism, rebuilding the NHS with funds and a reversal of all cut-backs and sell-offs, rebuilding social care by taking it into public ownership and increasing funding and wages for workers, full public ownership of all privatised services starting with the energy sector, and a socialist Green New Deal to safeguard the climate.
Defend Corbyn’s seat
Corbyn should call an online rally in a matter of weeks to declare that he will be launching a new party, appeal to movements and unions for support and involvement, and appeal to individuals to register as active supporters. Follow-up organising meetings of those who want to get more involved can bring movements on board, organise locally, and so on. A new party needs to be an organised force on every strike and every protest, with leaflets to build support for left policies and defending Corbyn at the next election.
In Islington, the strongest possible ‘ground game’ will be needed to counter the media and Labour machine which will go all out to defeat Corbyn. Starting now, organisation needs to be built in every corner of the constituency, holding public meetings at the level of council wards, housing estates, and large workplaces, about building campaigns to win victories on the immediate issues and connecting that with holding Corbyn’s seat.
Drawing this together with a mass meeting in the constituency in a few months would be the springboard for launching regular mass campaigning activities through which huge support can be built and mass canvassing developed well before the general election.
Founding a new party now would enable Corbyn to harness colossal support outside of his constituency, which could be mobilised for regular canvassing drives in Islington as the election approaches. After winning the seat, Corbyn could call a national conference to cohere his support into a large and potentially powerful new left party.
These are ways in which our political co-thinkers in the United States, also named Socialist Alternative, have just secured Kshama Sawant as city councillor in Seattle again, in her fourth popular vote. Kshama’s council position represents a similar number of voters as many British parliamentary constituencies.
SA weren’t just up against ‘normal’ corporate media and politicians. They were facing Jeff Bezos and Amazon, the capitalist titans of the 21st century, and they won! Mass organisation and clear left policies with an uncompromising commitment to struggle can cut through the most vicious right-wing campaigns.
But there is scope to build a new left party that goes well beyond Corbyn’s own constituency. Hundreds of thousands were prepared to actively support Corbyn against the right in Labour when he faced a coup attempt. The forces exist in society for building a new mass left party of struggle, and Corbyn retains the authority to be a central catalyst in cohering one.
Were a new party to be established around Corbyn, it would make sense for the few genuine left MPs who remain in Starmer’s Labour to join it. Nonetheless, it could be the case that, at the next election, some will want to stand candidates against the worst Blairites and Tories. Some will want to support left Labour candidates in other seats. A friendly approach to genuine Labour lefts and supporters is important but the left needs to be outward-looking, concerned mainly with struggle rather than the minutiae of Labour’s internal structures which are dominated nationally by the right-wing.
A crucial task of a new party is to secure Corbyn’s re-election. The strategic task is to build a new mass party rooted in struggle and organising to fight for change. Socialist Alternative will take part in any serious discussions and steps toward building a viable mass left alternative. We will put forward Marxist ideas on policies, strategy and tactics within that process. If you agree with us, join us!