Old or new, anti-communism remains anti-communism

Why did Arthur Scargill write and impose the constitution he did? It owes everything to MacDonald and nothing to Marx

It is worth recalling what our president proposed on the Socialist Labour Party constitution following the October 1995 Labour Party conference. “If a Socialist Labour Party is to be established,” comrade Arthur Scargill declared, “it must be done” on the “basis” of “convening a special ‘discussion conference’ to which all those committed to founding such a party should be invited with the aim of formulating a constitution and structure” (A Scargill Future strategy for the left, November 4 1995, p8).

Those of us opposed to both the petty exclusiveness of existing groups and the atomised docility of Blair’s new mass membership welcomed this broad, inclusive and democratic way of proceeding. The commitment and self-sacrifice needed to “fundamentally change society” can only be secured from those who consciously forge the instrument of their own self-emancipation.

Yet since the May 4 founding conference we who joined the SLP in good faith have de facto had to operate under comrade Scargill’s draft Constitution/rule book - originally dated December 10 1995. I have been quietly taken aside and told that the now defunct Steering Committee voted by a majority for the document. Suffice to say the membership, whom comrade Scargill once assured us would “control” the SLP, have had no chance to collectively debate, change, or even formally argeee it.

My last statement needs qualifying somewhat. At the members’ meeting of March 2 1996 in Conway Hall 20 to 30 comrades did come together to discuss our constitution. They were though forestalled. Comrade Pat Sikorski ruled their deliberations out of order.

After that shameful episode, and of no less cause for concern, one prominent spokesperson of the SLP constitution working party was excluded from the founding conference by comrade Carolyn Sikorski. There was, I have been informed, no prior communication. Nor was there any right of appeal.

Having travelled all the way to Camden’s town hall the comrade was simply turned away at the door. Comrade Sikorski had her shabby ambush ready. The undisputed fact was that the comrade in question wanted to call himself by a surname of his own choosing in the SLP. Something well within the spirit and leter of English jurisprudence and, from VI Lenin to Tony Cliff, good revolutionary practice.

Of course, our Cerberus is known in the Fourth International and Fisc, one of its secret British factions, by a non de plume. She also chooses within the SLP to call herself Sikorski: ie, the aristocratic family name of her former spouse. That is her right. But to disallow a paid up member because he wants to exercise the same right strikes me as hypocritical as it is damaging to the future of the SLP.

A similar fate befell comrade Mary Ward, former Labour leader of Dundee council and member of the SLP’s Steering Committee in Scotland. Having submitted a democratic centralist alternative draft constitution, she too found herself barred from the conference. I am investigating these and other unjust and undemocratic exclusions. In due course my findings will be presented to the Weekly Worker for publication. However even at this stage the message is unmistakable. Challenging comrade Scargill’s constitution is a dangerous business.

Representatives of the National Executive Committee have solemnly promised that the SLP’s constitution will be fully discussed before being voted on at next year’s congress. How that can happen in the absence of an accountable, frequent and open SLP press I will leave to the reader’s imagination. Meanwhile what should have been merely one of many drafts operates as SLP law. The Scargill constitution has been imposed from on high and is actively being used to shape and crystallise the SLP structurally and ideologically.

The consequences are profound. The Fisc/NUMist composition of the SLP’s general purposes committee plus the Scargill constitution equals a social democratic political formation.

The dominant section of the SLP leadership is set on achieving a national socialism in Britain using the existing, capitalist, state. The big idea is to use the financial and organisational weight of the trade unions as the lever which will clear the way to a mathematical parliamentary majority. With action outside parliament being deployed as an auxiliary the SLP will then proceed to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy and legislate in the ‘socialist’ epoch; in reality a retrogressive and doomed form of isolationist state capitalism.

Presumably comrade Scargill believes that after the election of a Blair government the left wing of the trade union bureaucracy will become disillusioned with the Labour Party. Whether or not that certainty leads to significant trade union splits from the Labour Party remains to be seen - I for one think it improbable. The SLP has more chance of becoming an unstable version of the Independent Labour Party - it disaffiliated from the Labour Party in 1932. Nevertheless in the expectation of trade union bureaucrats defecting from the Labour Party and taking their block votes with them, the SLP is to be made into something acceptable to them. What they would want is a Labour Party mark II.

Comrade Scargill’s syndicalist-parliamentary road to socialism explains why the SLP was conceived by him as a federal party with affiliation open to “trade unions recognised by the party’s executive committee as bona fide trade unions” (clause 2, sub-section 2a). Likewise it also explains why the SLP has found itself constitutionally saddled with anti-communist bans and proscriptions.

The Labour leadership took 25 years to begin the expulsion of communists. Because it travels lighter the SLP leadership moves quicker. In November 1995 comrade Scargill was denouncing Ramsay MacDonald and the other Labour Party ‘modernisers’ responsible for expelling the communists in the 1920s. One month later almost to the day comrade Scargill had drafted a constitution designed to carry out a similar political cleansing.

National chauvinism, parliamentary cretinism and bourgeois law lies behind clause 2, sub-section 6. Only “British or Irish citizens or persons who have resided in Britain or Ireland for more than one year” are eligible for SLP membership. The same reformist ethos informs clause 2, sub-sections 4 and 5. Here we find comrade Scargill’s reinvention of old MacDonald’s anti-communist armoury.

Sub-section 4 is the shield. It reads: “Individuals and organisations other than bona fide trade unions which have their own programme, principles and policies, distinctive and separate propaganda, or which are engaged in the promotion of policies in opposition to those of the party shall be ineligible for affiliation to the party.” Sub-section 5 is the sword. It reads: “A member of the party who joins and/or supports a political organisation other than the party shall automatically be ineligible to remain a party member.”

With sub-section 4 the Communist Party, Militant Labour, the Socialist Workers Party, etc can be kept out as affiliated organisations. With sub-section 5 any SLPer who is also a member of, or supports, any of the above organisations, etc, can be expelled. Needless to say only the capitalist class can benefit from the constitutional exclusion of communists and other revolutionaries from the ranks of what purports to be the new federal party of the working class.

It should at the same time be noted that the bans and proscriptions mean that virtually every working class body other than so-called bona fide trade unions are excluded from the SLP. Editorial boards and financial or literary contributors to leftwing publications are ineligible. From Critique to Labour research they have their own principles and policies, not to say distinctive propaganda. And surely the same draconian sub-clause applies in essence to the whole range of socialist discussion circles, cultural groups, tenants’ associations and unofficial trade union organisations. Whether affiliated trade unions will be allowed to democratically elect whomsoever they choose to represent them in the SLP remains to be seen. Will all affiliated members have the same rights? Or will the SLP seek to ban members of the CPGB, ML, the SWP, etc, from representing their trade unions? The working class movement needs, must demand and receive an answer.

With the undemocratic imposition of the Scargill constitution one thing is for sure. The revolutionary minority in the SLP has a pressing duty to organise itself. The right wing is very weak when it comes to theory and political honesty. Despite that it possesses influence by default and is well entrenched on the NEC.

Inevitably there are soft elements who say any initiative by the revolutionary minority is premature. These comrades play into the hands of the right. Typically they aspire to mimic Militant’s deep-entryism in the Labour Party. But the SLP is not the Labour Party. It has sprung forth ready made from Scargill’s head, not slowly evolved from the body of the TUC. Besides we all know that Labour’s reformism had more effect on Militant’s revolutionism than Militant’s revolutionism had on Labour’s reformism. ML is today more reformist than revolutionary. A similar fate awaits all liquidators and conciliators.

The revolutionary minority must fight for the political space needed to freely and openly fight for the ideas and programme of revolution.

SL Kenning