Burst of life

SL Kenning looks at latest developments in the Socialist Labour Party

Thanks to Socialist Labour, the ‘official communist’ Morning Star is actually showing distinct signs of nervous activity. Over the last couple of months the letters page has carried debate concerning the SLP. Though it needs to be understood in very relative terms, the Morning Star has been interesting.

Unfortunately this change has nothing to do with a sudden conversion to open debate. Self-survival - ie narrow interest - spurs the living dead into action.

For the editors of the Morning Star and Mike Hicks’ Communist Party of Britain the SLP is a threat to its very existence. There has been a sizeable number of defections, including former executive member Bob Crow. More importantly the SLP is well placed to successfully take over the left reformist space in British trade union and electorialist politics once regarded as its monopoly by the CPB (Militant Labour and its Socialist Party is another rival).

Socialist Labour also represents a programmatic challenge. The CPB is wedded to the hopeless notion that ‘socialism’ in Britain will come through parliament and the election of a Labour government.

Hence the main content of criticism in the pages of the Morning Star has been the SLP’s refusal to back Blair’s Labour Party against the supposed main enemy - the Tory government. By its nature the CPB is blind to the main enemy - the United Kingdom state. It dreams, after all, of taking over the existing, capitalist, state machine and using it for reformist purposes.

In the forthcoming general election the CPB intends to stand a couple of candidates. However, this will be a mere gesture. Like so much of the left - the SWP and most Trotskyites included - the ‘official communists’, in the name of choosing the lesser evil, will be voting Labour in order to defeat the Tories. Logically such a rotten line means arguing and working against any real leftwing alternative to Labour. True to form, in December 1996 the Morning Star opposed Ken Capstick in Barnsley East and supported Walworth Road’s Jeff Ennis.

Sad to say, our leadership also programmatically espouses left reformism. Despite, or perhaps due to, his Fourth International background and membership of the shadowy Fisc, comrade Brian Heron penned a longish article in the journal Capital and Class, lavishly praising the “immensely powerful” British road to socialism - the historic ‘revolutionary-reformist’ programme of ‘official communism’ (‘The birth of Socialist Labour’ Capital and Class No59, p140).

Key to the difference between the SLP and the ‘official communists’ is the Labour Party. Socialist Labour was formed by comrade Arthur Scargill on the premise that New Labour represents an historic break. Blairism, or so our president believes, has made the old BRS obsolete.

The claim that the Labour Party was ever a vehicle for socialism, the suggestion that what is needed is a new ‘updated’ BRS where Socialist Labour substitutes for New Labour, is profoundly wrong. As a class the workers can never liberate themselves by way of traditional and defensive parliamentary and trade union methods.

Nevertheless, because it is a left split from the Labour Party, because it expresses the organic crisis of Labourism, the SLP is a very positive development. With the intervention of Marxists the SLP can be made a stepping stone towards what is needed - that is, the organisation of the working class into a mass revolutionary party.

Open debate is vital here. Without the free exchange and struggle of ideas the SLP will come to nothing.

It is therefore significant that differences within the SLP between pro- and anti-Labour Party elements are being fought out in the Morning Star, not Socialist News. Using the columns of any leftwing or working class publication is perfectly principled and should be encouraged. However, the fact that Socialist News consciously avoids the clash of different opinions and negatively announces its fear of debate by the absence of a letters page quite clearly must be rectified in the near future.

The SLP is far from united when it comes to electoral strategy and tactics. There is a wide body of opinion which in essence takes the same position on voting Labour as the ‘official communists’. That is why the Morning Star was delighted to print the letter of comrade Lambert announcing that the Berkshire and Swindon branches of the SLP “had decided not to engage in any electoral activity” (Morning Star December 30 1996).

That comrade Nell Myers, effectively the editor of Socialist News, had to rely on the Morning Star to express how “puzzled” she was by such defeatism says a great deal about the internal regime in our SLP.

There must be a full, open and democratic debate within our press on election strategy and tactics. Only then can we overcome the opportunism of those who say vote Labour, and the sectarianism of those who refuse to countenance a bloc of the left.