Splitting the left from Labour

The debate over Scargill’s call for an SLP was raging in Scotland long before this weekend’s meeting. Nick Clarke from the CPGB in Scotland here replies to John Foster of the CPB and Alan McCombes of SML, writing in the Glasgow Herald with edited versions reproduced here

Positive alternative

BY calling for the formation of a Socialist Labour Party Arthur Scargill has thrown down a challenge to the left, both those within the Labour Party and those organised outside. The CPGB recognises that the establishment of an SLP could act as a focus for the best elements in the working class movement to provide an alternative to the decades of Labour Party betrayals.

The present political discontent in British society has left huge swathes of the population disillusioned with politics. It is inevitable that after 16 years of Tory (mis)rule many will vote for Blair’s Labour Party on the basis that ‘they can’t be any worse than this lot’.

However as British capitalism lurches towards crisis, it is probable that the next government, Labour or Tory, will act like the French government - huge cuts in public spending and welfare, combined with further attacks on workers’ pay and conditions. In such circumstances workers’ discontent will need to have a political voice. The options are fairly plain. If the left does not offer a positive alternative of a society based on need and in the interest of all humanity, then the right - in the form of narrow, anti-working class, anti-social chauvinism - will grow.

Alan McCombes (Scottish Militant Labour) in his lettermakes the important point that the “real battle for socialism won’t be fought in tiny backroom Labour Party meetings. It will be fought in local communities, in workplaces ...” This is the significance of Scargill’s proposal. While at present it attracts the attention of several thousand activists, its potential is far greater. In three or four years’ time, as a Blair government attacks working class living standards and provokes industrial disputes, so an SLP gives the left an opportunity to unite politically and organisationally with a mass movement, disaffected with  Labour.

It is imperative that between now and then we use the time to prepare. Although I welcome the idea of a meeting on May Day, I feel Scargill’s proposal of an inaugural conference on May 1 1996 to launch the party is premature. There is a lot of ground work to be done, including the widest possible discussion and debate as to the programme and organisational shape of the SLP. To this end the SLP must have open debate combined with unity in action.

I believe programmatically the SLP has to base its fight on the needs of the working class as a whole. It should consist of one organisation across Britain, based on affiliation from existing political groups, campaigns and trade unions.

In his letter, John Foster (Communist Party of Britain) complains that “splitting the left from the Labour Party would weaken the battle for progressive policies inside the Labour Party”. Well, John, can you honestly say that Labour governments over the years have been receptive or accountable to any progressive policies in the Labour Party (remember clause four)? As for battling “for the future of the [Labour] party”, why are John and his comrades in a separate party? Why stand against Labour in elections?

Whatever the timescale of the launch, the SLP project has historic potential to create a serious, mass leftwing organisation in Britain. It is crucial that such an opportunity is not wasted on the altar of political sectarianism or bureaucratic methods. The widest possible debate must take place to enable the working class to come up with a genuine independent alternative to the bosses’ Britain of Blair, Major, Salmond or Ashdown.

Nick Clarke
Communist Party of Great Britain


IT IS a curious paradox that John Foster, Scottish secretary of the Communist Party of Britain, should oppose the formation of a new Socialist Labour Party. For the bedraggled and dwindling band of socialists remaining within the Labour Party, the CPB must appear like the political equivalent of those World War I generals who insisted - from a safe distance - in fighting until the last drop of blood.

The CPB do a great disservice to the cause of socialism and democracy by opposing Arthur Scargill’s courageous attempt to create a political voice for those who have been abandoned by New Labour. Yes, Labour still has links with the trade union movement. But these links are slowly but surely in the process of being dissolved. Meanwhile, the Labour leadership continues to railroad through a series of changes to the party rules specifically designed to suppress future internal opposition.

John Foster wants Labour Party members to hold on for another three, four or five years until everyone is satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that the vanquishing of the left has finally been completed.

A New Labour government under Blair will ultimately alienate millions and pave the way for the Tories to return with a vengeance. The danger is that while this tragic drama unfolds, socialism becomes more and more marginalised.

The real battle for socialism won’t be fought in tiny backroom Labour Party meetings. It will be fought in local communities, in workplaces, in colleges and universities.

In order to wage that battle effectively a new force is needed. Socialists from all traditions should come together to create a mass, broad-based socialist party in Scotland, parallel with a similar party in England and Wales.

Alan McCombes
Scottish Militant Labour

Left should not leave Labour

YOUR report of the meeting convened by the Scottish Socialist Movement to discuss the formation of a new leftwing party mentions the presence of the Communist Party of Scotland.

I am writing to make it clear that the Communist Party of Britain does not at this stage support this aim ...

Splitting the left from the Labour Party would weaken the battle for progressive polices inside the Labour Party. It would also make it easier for Tony Blair to cut the crucial links with the trade union movement. Nor would a split within the Labour Party at this stage be understood by the voters. People want the Tories out.

The key test will come if and when Labour is elected. It is then that the Blair leadership will almost certainly come into conflict with the trade union movement and do so in the context of heightened expectations among voters and trade unionists. It is vital that the left is still present at this point to battle for the future of the party which the trade union movement founded.

John Foster
Secretary, Scottish Committee,
Communist Party of Britain