A tale of two leaflets

SL Kenning looks at the latest developments in the Socialist Labour Party

Unhappy is the organisation which needs bans and exclusions. Unhappy is Socialist Labour. Political cleansing, fear and intolerance spreads. A destructive witch hunt is underway. Inevitably there are the persecuted and the persecutors. The most innocent action is given sinister interpretation by the new McCarthyites. As in Salem, hypocrisy is rife. Among the witch hunters morality bifurcates. In plain language what applies to some does not apply to others.

A particularly striking example of double standards has come to my attention. The first is the well known case of Steve Smethurst. Readers of the Weekly Worker will recall that this Manchester SLP comrade found himself excluded from the founding conference on May 4 and then several months later from actual membership (see Weekly Worker July 4 and July 11 1996).

The supposed reason for this bureaucratic sledgehammer was comrade Smethurst’s part in the drafting of a local election leaflet for Oldham SLP back in April. According to local witch hunter and now National Executive Committee member, Phil Griffin, it was wildly leftist and outside SLP policy - note the charge was laid before our May 4 founding conference.

The second case concerns North London SLP - Pat Sikorski, the general secretary’s, branch. Two comrades, Colin Meade and Bernard Gibbons, produced and distributed a short leaflet calling for ‘peace and justice in Ireland’. The text includes the false statement that our founding conference voted for “an immediate commitment from Britain to political and military withdrawal from Ireland within the lifetime of a parliament” and the “immediate and unconditional repatriation of all Irish political prisoners”.

True, the original steering committee did advocate that British imperialism conduct an ordered withdrawal from the Six Counties and transfer Irish prisoners to the jurisdiction of screws across the other side of the St George’s Channel. However, bending to considerable pressure from below, our leadership accepted the thrust of amendments a, b and c. These amendments stood on the elementary principles of self-determination and anti-imperialism. They demanded the “immediate withdrawal of British troops from Ireland” and the “immediate and unconditional release of all Irish political prisoners”. And thankfully this is what our May 4 conference duly supported.

I have read the whole of comrade Smethurst’s Oldham leaflet. Most of the politics is contained on the first of its four sides and was reproduced in the Weekly Worker of July 4 - there is nothing of importance on the other three sides. Frankly it is not in my opinion a brilliant piece of agitation.

It is a combination of localism, economism and advertising for an Arthur Scargill meeting. Instead of elevating the sightsoftheworking class from humdrum everyday worries, itconcentratesonOldham andwhatthe local authorities ought to do. There is no perspective of taking on the UK state. Nor are any genuinely socialist political questions raised. Ireland, Scotland, immigration controls, national chauvinism, women’s rights make no appearance.

For me the implicit reformism in comrade Smethurst’s leaflet is a matter of comradely criticism. I would not dream of proposing any disciplinary measures, let alone exclusion: ie, what is becoming practice in the SLP - expulsion without right of appeal.

Presumably what upset comrade Phil Griffin was the Oldham leaflet’s uncompromising attitude towards the Labour Party, its corruption and its vicious attacks on the working class from the council chamber. Or maybe Griffin and the local Fisc clique were simply looking for any excuse, no matter how flimsy, in order to drive comrade Smethurst out of the SLP. Certainly condemning Smethurst for leftism says rather more about the witch hunters than their chosen victim. That the attempt at political cleansing has resulted in the liquidation of the whole Manchester branch certainly testifies to the damage intolerance and witch hunting do to the socialist cause.

Of course, Smethurst is transparently innocent. One cannot be guilty of misrepresenting the policy of a party that has not been formed. On the other hand comrades Meade and Gibbons are prima facie guilty. They unquestionably falsified and reversed agreed SLP policy.

Meade and Gibbons might have conspired to present the SLP in a way that they believe will make it more acceptable to Labourites. Then again, despite conference passionately debating Ireland and clearly showing its view in an overwhelming sea of hands, maybe this completely passed them by. Cynicism or heroic ignorance? You decide. Either way, no one should demand comrades Meade and Gibbons be excluded from the SLP.

Somehow though I doubt it will come to that. Like comrade Pat Sikorski, both Meade and Gibbons are associated with one of the former alphabetically named factions of the Trotskyite organisation still commonly known by its publication Socialist Outlook. These comrades subsequently split from the International Socialist Group and are now well ensconced and secretly operating in the SLP ... as the Fourth International Supporters Caucus.

NEC report

Our National Executive Committee met at the end of last month in London. Strangely it was followed by a complete news blackout. No reports, written or verbal, of our leadership’s deliberations and decisions have been relayed down to branches. It had been agreed that this special meeting was to

“go through the executive implications of the policy papers passed at our May conference and to take a view on those policy papers and amendments which were referred to the incoming NEC by conference” (Socialist Labour information June 13 1996).

Almost certainly the NEC is deeply divided. But on what issue - energy, anti-racism, women, the European Union? Do differences stem from trade union sectionalism, revolution versus reform or what? A majority seems to imagine that none of this is the business of the membership. Despite a looming general election, the burning need to produce a manifesto and put in place our NEC’s aim of 100 candidates, the rank and file is being kept in the dark.

Comrades should demand that branches are given a full account. If nothing is forthcoming, other channels must be sought out.


NEC members who understand that political disagreements are natural and not a matter of shame should use the Weekly Worker or my column. Let there be light: let the movement know what is going on.

Meanwhile the July 20 NEC meeting in Doncaster is being turned over to policy discussions in the attempt to resolve the differences.