Simon Harvey of the SLP

Brar - airbrushed out

The history of the Socialist Labour Party has been one of the various factions vying for influence and the ear of our general secretary. All the while Arthur Scargill himself has been not a little adept at playing off one grouping against another.

In 1996-97, when we were 2,000-strong and - driven by the founder-members' enthusiasm, confidence and belief in the new party - still growing, there were several sizeable forces. The closest to Arthur at that time were the followers of the ex-Usec Fourth International Supporters Caucus - notably the first general secretary, Patrick Sikorski - who had been in on the initial discussions which resulted in the creation of the SLP, along with its anti-communist, anti-democratic, bureaucratic monstrosity of a constitution.

However, the Fiscites ended up hoist on their own petard. When Sikorski tried to clip Scargill's wings and curb his authoritarian, impetuous ways, Arthur's response was to see to it that Fisc was demoted and, in November 1998, all were removed from the leadership. For this purpose Scargill used a certain Royston Bull, leader of the previously obscure grouping around the ranting, hyper-eccentric Economic and Philosophic Science Review.

Bull himself lasted just a couple of months as vice-president, and was finally expelled in April 1999 - most of his supporters had left by the end of the year. All but a handful of the revolutionary left and those concerned for SLP democracy had already walked away or been 'voided' - informed they had never been members in the first place.

But there was one organised faction remaining - the ultra-Stalinite followers of comrade Harpal Brar of the Indian Workers Association and the Stalin Society, who was first elected onto the national executive in December 1997. Two years later he was running what was left of the London region, while his son, Ranjeet, was editor of Spark, paper of our tiny youth section, and daughter Joti held the same post on the women's section journal, Women for Socialism.

By now Harpal was clearly number two in the party, and Scargill seemed to be leaning on him whenever he required a theoretical fig leaf for whatever was his latest turn. Spark and Women for Socialism carried the same deadly Stalinite fare as Lalkar, bimonthly organ of the IWA, whose editor is Brar senior. Nevertheless, each issue of Socialist News, the official SLP paper, carried an advert for the publications of the Brar offspring, despite the passive opposition to its contents from the majority of the now demoralised, atomised and often isolated membership.

But now a change. The latest edition of Socialist News does not carry the usual adverts, nor the usual puff for the youth and women's sections (both run by the Brarites). Even more significantly, there is a short article from Scargill loyalist Murdo Ritchie, entitled 'No factions, please' (August-September). Here is what the comrade has to say:

"Like many others, I have supported the Socialist Labour Party in the belief that a genuine attempt to abandon factionalism and sectarian practices would build a united socialist alternative. This has meant genuinely accepting that all individuals who wish to make a fresh start by placing behind them all factional concerns, past parties and traditions would be welcome in its ranks and no attempt made to hold their past against them.

"It was with deep dismay that I read our paper [June-July - SH] promoting the Stalin Society alongside advertisements for our party and paper. We should not seek to identify this party with any factional or historically loaded group or interest.

"The role of Stalin within the Soviet Union and the wider communist movement has not been without substantial criticism, indeed antagonism. For the party to identify itself with one historical faction would load it with an amount of baggage that has been almost universally discarded.

"The only route forward for the SLP will be by undertaking a drastic re-evaluation of the history and movements we come from, attempting to grasp the strengths and weaknesses of all and, from that, build the best type of socialist party for the future. Any attempt at turning this party into a continuation of another party or tradition will only meet the same failures that they have already undergone."

I must apologise for burdening readers with the whole of this repetitive, vacuous piece (it is in fact the most interesting article in the whole paper), but I feel it is necessary in order to let you judge for yourself what is going on. Socialist News does not of course carry a letters page, and has only rarely been known to publish anything resembling polemic. Its entire contents consist of deadly dull, routine trade union, localist and single-issue reports, with the occasional lame attempt at wider comment on current political affairs.

The Ritchie piece is, then, not a personal opinion, but intended as an official announcement of the latest line change. Brar's name, it is true, still appears alongside Scargill's as a speaker in the forthcoming 'Celebrate the October revolution' rally in West Yorkshire (p5). But that is something of a tradition: Arthur has spoken at every one of these annual events (organised by Brar) since the London regional president joined the party. But it has no official connection with the SLP.

My sources tell me that Harpal is just the latest (and last) factional victim to fall from grace within the party. He may remain a member, but his days as Scargill's closest confidant are for the moment over.