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Socialism by stealth?

Dave Osler argues the Green Party can never become a popular front for the achievement of socialism

November 11, 2007
4 min read

Greetings from member L0093001 of Hackney North and Stoke Newington CLP. Yes, after devoting most of my political energies for over a decade to arguing and actively working for a new political party of the left – even writing a book making an extended case as to why such a party is essential – I last year decided to rejoin the Labour Party.

That’s right, the same party that sent British troops to Iraq; the same party that scrapped student grants, in what must rank as the single most socially regressive piece of legislation introduced by any UK government since 1945; and the same party that has produced a succession of racist semi-Stalinist and fully-Stalinist home secretaries that continue to rein in civil liberties.

And let me make it clear – and I really must, because I am a former Trotskyist – that I haven’t taken out a card in the expectation that New Labour can eventually be converted into a revolutionary party, or that a revolutionary tendency can be built within it. Both those ideas so evidently infantile as not to be worth a moment’s consideration.

Nor will I be trying to ‘reclaim New Labour from the Blairites’, because that cannot be done, either. The changes within Labour’s internal structures have sealed off, once and for, any possibility of re-running the late seventies and early eighties. More’s the pity; the rock music of the period was infinitely superior to anything being recorded today.

Every single one of the criticisms Peter Tatchell levels at New Labour in ‘Green is the new red’ is unarguably correct. Blair and Brown have indeed thrashed the last vestiges of labour movement democracy, and on many issues, out-Thatchered Thatcher. None of this is in dispute.

It’s not even that I am particularly in tune with majority thinking on the much reduced Labour left, which still conceives of socialist utopia as a nationalised gas industry. For most of these people, it is as if globalisation, the collapse of communism, political Islam and global warming had never happened.

As a result, they automatically fail politically, because their backward-looking bureaucratic outlook condemns them in advance to fail. Small wonder they were unable to mount a serious fight against Blairism; it is because they couldn’t advance a viable alternative set of ideas.

That brings me to the reason I ate humble pie and filled out the standing order form to New Labour. Developing that alternative set of ideas strikes me as the most constructive thing democratic socialists can now be doing.

And the party that still commands majority support among the progressive electorate and the affiliation of the majority of the trade union movement is the best place it can undertake this task.

Obviously I regard leftwing Greens such as Peter and principle male speaker Derek Wall as comrades, on the assumption that one is allowed to use such a term in this context. It’s just that I do not think the Green Party can ever become a popular front for the achievement of socialism by stealth.

It remains small, and displays no sign of an ability to attain the critical mass it needs to become a serious factor in British politics, or even to build a base of support in the working class.

What’s more, historical experience shows that where Green parties do take off, they leave their radicalism well behind. The Realos take over from the Fundis, and the one-time soixante-huitard peaceniks end up cheerleading Nato bombing campaigns from the comfort of their ministerial limos.

Let me draw an analogy between the current situation of the serious left and that faced by the intelligent free market right in the 1950s, the hey-day of Keynesianism. At that time, it looked as if all argument over political economy was over for good.

The reaction by the most far-thinking devotees of the Austrian economists was to form think tanks and slowly propagate their world view from within the Conservative Party. It took about 20 years to come to fruition, but ultimately, the strategy worked.

Our ideas – including expanded trade union rights, public ownership and workers’ control, left libertarian social policies that would cause instant myocardial infarction among Daily Mail leader writers, a foreign policy that consistently promotes democracy and sustainable development, and the realisation that the environment is the most important issue facing humanity today – are relevant.

Indeed, they offer the only way out of the impasse. But before they can be put into action, they have to be rearticulated into policies geared to today’s world. That is, of course, a limited horizon, especially compared to preparing for world revolution. But then, these are times when limited horizons surely trump strategic dead ends.

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