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Perspectives for Britain 2016

Socialist Party documents

Perspectives for Britain 2016

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A different kind of new formation

20. Alongside predicting the crumbling of the establishment parties, last year's document also stated that "the rapid development of new parties" would be on the agenda.

We drew a comparison with Podemos in Spain erupting onto the scene and topping the polls within eight months and argued that "we could see similar developments in Britain".

That has been borne out by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, albeit in an unexpected form.

21. Having scraped onto the ballot paper for the Labour Party leadership election, Jeremy Corbyn became a focal point for hundreds of thousands of opponents of austerity.

Ironically, Labour's new electoral system, introduced by Ed Miliband to remove the last vestiges of union power from the party, meant that those enthused by Corbyn could sign up for 'the price of a pint' (3) to vote for him.

It was this new layer, combined with some 'returners' to Labour which swept Corbyn to power with a landslide victory.

As we have stated from the beginning, there are now two parties in formation within the shell of the Labour Party: the pro-capitalist rump which has dominated the Labour Party for decades and still has a grip on the machine and Parliamentary Labour Party; and a new, anti-austerity, anti-war party around Corbyn.

22. We have long predicted the development of such a new formation. We considered it more likely to come into being from forces outside of the Labour Party - as has been the trend in most countries - given the Labour Party's transformation into a capitalist party.

The lack of democracy in the Labour Party and growing levels of working-class alienation from it meant a movement within the Labour Party structures was not the most likely scenario.

Nonetheless, we have no fetish about by what route the crisis of working-class political representation would be solved and have never excluded the possibility of Labour swinging left.

As long ago as 2002 we argued: "Under the impact of great historic shocks - a serious economic crisis, mass social upheaval - the ex-social democratic parties could move dramatically towards the left." [Socialism Today, September 2002]

23. Does this invalidate our analysis that Labour had been transformed in the 1990s into a capitalist party; rather than as it previously was a capitalist workers' party - with a leadership which acted in the interests of the capitalist class but a mass working-class base able to put pressure on the party leadership? Not at all; the class character of a party is not fixed in stone but can change under the impact of major events.

Workers' parties can be formed out of splits from capitalist parties - such as when PASOK was formed out of a split from the bourgeois 'Centre Union', or the MAPU in Chile that became part of Allende's Popular Unity but which originated in a split from the capitalist Christian Democrats.

For a historical period, Labour became a party which was a reliable tool for the capitalist class; this was reflected not only at the top of the party but also at its base, although of course a few remnants of the past still remained.

However, a majority - including a majority of constituency delegates - rejected calls for withdrawal from Iraq at the 2004 Labour Party conference.

No wonder that Thatcher famously declared that her greatest achievement was Tony Blair and New Labour! The capitalist class understand that her achievement is now under threat.

It would be premature at this stage to characterise the Labour Party once again as a bourgeois workers' party.

It is more accurate to say, as we have, that it is two parties - a capitalist and a potential workers' party - within one.

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