Typewriter Critical Mass editorial

The Labour Party has been a major focus for generations of socialists. That is increasingly difficult in today’s Labour Party. Starmer has made it clear that, never mind socialism, he is shifting the party away from social democracy by reneging on the ten pledges he made to win the party leadership in 2020. Labour policies now are to the right of some previous Conservative governments.

Many socialists have been purged or resigned in protest. Many who remained as members have stopped being active because they no longer feel welcome in their CLP. And when Labour gave their backing to Israel’s war on Gaza, opposing calls for an immediate ceasefire and supporting the collective punishment of the Palestinian population, numbers of lifelong Labour voters decided we could not vote for a party that supported genocide.

As a result there is a growing number of independent socialists preparing to challenge Labour at the General Election, people like Andrew Feinstein who is standing against Keir Starmer and Leanne Mohamad who is taking on Wes Streeting. Then there is the Workers Party. After George Galloway’s by-election victory in Rochdale they are planning to stand dozens of candidates across the country. TUSC is organising a slate of left-wing candidates and new party, Transform is also looking to stand.

So the chances are that many disillusioned socialists will be able to register a protest vote at the election. This will give us a rough idea of the size of the independent left, but it will not be great. Most candidates will lose their deposits. While some individuals will do a lot better, especially well-known candidates or those with a local support network to go out canvassing, overall the national vote share is unlikely to exceed 2%.

The break with Labour is welcome because in the past Labour has attracted many socialists who have compromised their politics and put their energy into electoral politics. Most people believe that winning elections is the only way to change things. There are a few problems with this. Even when you water down your politics, winning elections is not easy. In the last hundred years we have only had thirty-three years of Labour governments. Even when they were the government, Labour has never challenged capitalism. In fact they have frequently been ‘blown off course’ by capitalist crises and bailed the system out with anti-union laws, wage freezes and cuts to services. They have been unable to defend standout reforms like council housing and the NHS that are crumbling before our eyes.

Even the post-war Attlee government, with a landslide majority, failed in the end. The NHS was a compromise with private medicine. Troops were used to break strikes. As well as leading us into NATO, Attlee was responsible for the disastrous partition of India, handing Palestine over to the Zionists and launching the UK’s nuclear deterrent, which he did without even consulting the Cabinet. And, having saved Capitalism, it paved the way for thirteen years of Tory rule.

Now socialists are turning their backs on Labour does that mean we can now build a proper Democratic Socialist Party that will keep its promises and wont sell out? Or should we be asking why it is so hard for Labour to win elections and then bring in lasting reforms? Would a new party repeat the same old mistakes and fall into the same traps?

How else can we change society, especially at a time when two thirds of the country want a ceasefire in Gaza and both Labour and Tories are backing the Israeli side in the war? Perhaps a party based on strikes and demonstrations and direct action is needed to save democracy from politicians who are doing their best to destroy it.

It is important that we support left alternatives to Labour in the coming general election. But, even if a handful make it into parliament, the most important outcome will not be the votes that they win. It will be the networks of active supporters they bring together and whether these networks can stay together to become a driving force behind strikes and protests and mobilisations against the next Labour Government when it betrays its voters and enacts policies to benefit its wealthy donors and establishment supporters.

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