Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Can we build a democratic socialist party in the UK?

The coronavirus crisis grinds on and will continue for many months yet. Today the official figures are 32,000 coronavirus deaths - the highest in Europe. Governments are spending to prop up their economies. The result will be higher deficits and debt. That will lead to calls for a new round of austerity to 'pay for the crisis'. George Osborne, the architect of the period of austerity we are now still going through, has already called for this. Of course, that means that 'we' - the working and middle classes' will have to pay - not the corporations who have received billions in support, nor the 1%. This would be a disaster, not only increasing poverty and hardship for the many but ultimately making our economy weaker. The key thing is that the debt doesn't matter. A sovereign government with its own currency can create as much money as its needs. And what we need is a massive stimulus for a green new deal which will, get people back to work in well paid jobs and mitigate the dire effects of climate change.

That will won't happen while we have a Tory government. The only way to bring about the stimulus we need is to elect a democratic socialist government. The question is can that be a Labour government? I understand that many socialists have been disillusioned by the election of Keir Starmer to the Labour leadership. Thousands have quit the party and I understand why. The 'Labourleaks' report was a good enough reason to leave, and there are many who feel that Starmer isn't providing sufficient opposition to a failing, incompetent government that is costing lives.

The problem for any opposition in a crisis is that people get behind the government - they want it to succeed - so outright opposition, though it may be justified may not be appreciated by many voters. Has Starmer called it right? That remains to be seen, but the acid test for Starmer is will he stick to Labour's radical policies - in particular the green new deal -  and will he win the next general election?

For me, it's too early to tell. But I do believe if Starmer's Labour fails to win in 2024, or earlier, that's the end of Labour. As a party member if Starmer shifts away from the Labour's radical policies I'm out. The question then becomes is it possible to build a genuinely democratic socialist party in the UK outside of Labour? The first past the post voting system gives every minor party a mountain to climb and it could take many years to build a party that would have any impact, which is why electoral reform is essential. Of course, it would be easier if left MPs split from Labour and had the support of some the unions but that looks unlikely.

So what do we do? I would be willing to join a new democratic socialist party if, and only if, it had a very flat structure and was member-led. Whatever happens, the key is organising at the grassroots and building economic democracy and mutual aid in the communities we live in.

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