Workers’ unity is central principle

Simon Harvey: SLP news and comment

It should now be dawning on all who have been following developments in the SLP that the NEC statement released on June 14 (see Weekly Worker June 19) is designed to crush any dissent inside our party, crucially in the lead-up to the October conference.

 The statement makes it clear that any attempt to campaign to amend a constitution which no-one has voted on is outlawed.  It also makes clear that this is not a specific ban against the recently launched Campaign for a Democratic SLP, but a blanket ban for all members of the party.

Where many, if not all, joined our party full of hope and enthusiasm that Socialist Labour could become the new party of the working class in Britain and the rallying point for all partisans of our class, its founder-leader has insisted that it is his party. The SLP is in grave danger of becoming ‘Scargill’s Labour Party’.

I am amazed to learn that, according to the NEC statement, “the central principle of our party’s constitution” is to oppose a federal structure and to prevent “other political organisations and groupings to join” Socialist Labour (my emphasis). I was under the impression that the central principle was the Socialist Labour clause four on common/social ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.

For the NEC to make such a claim shows what a far cry they are from Keir Hardie’s Labour Party, which Scargill claims as his own. The Labour Party before World War I allowed affiliation from a wide range of working class organisations - such as the Cooperative Party, the British Socialist Party, the Independent Labour Party and the Fabian Society. Keir Hardie’s party was a federal party.

To claim that the SLP is not already a federation of affiliates is absurd even on the basis of the so-called constitution. Clause II of Scargill’s ‘constitution’ clearly states that “(1) Membership shall consist of: a) affiliated members and b) individual members.” Further, “(3) Affiliated membership shall consist of: a) trade unions recognised by the party’s NEC... and b) Constituency SLPs.”

If this is not enough, voting and representation at conference is determined through these affiliated bodies, as well as through the party’s women’s, black and youth sections. Clearly not a centralised party - patently a federal structure.

All that is being argued is that if the party is being formed as an affiliate body why not incorporate all organised sections of our class who agree with the real central principle of the party, that of the social ownership of the means of production.

What is most galling is that some organisations and groupings technically banned by the so-called constitution are tolerated, and even encouraged by the current leadership. The Stalin Society, the Indian Workers Association (Lalkar), the Economic Philosophic Science Review and the Fourth International Supporters Caucus all operate with its open sanction.

United socialist challenge

Not content with preventing affiliation, comrade Scargill wants to rule out cooperation amongst the left. We see in the latest edition of Socialist News (June/July 1997)a rejection of any electoral agreement with other socialist forces. In his analysis of the general election the acting general secretary states: “It is essential that in the elections which follow our party contests every seat - and is not side-tracked into alliances, pacts or deals.” This dismissal of working with other socialist and working class forces is in stark conflict with the early history of our movement.

As our class began its first tentative steps towards independence from the bosses last century, as the ‘unthinkable’ happened and pioneers such as Keir Hardie stood independently of the Liberal Party, working class candidates contested elections in a markedly different manner.

It was inconceivable in the last years of the 19th century for those candidates calling for an independent working class vote to stand against one another. In 1892, three working class leaders were elected to parliament - John Burns, Havelock Wilson and Keir Hardie. In January 1893, the Independent Labour Party was formed. Only a few years later, in 1895, all the ILP MPs had lost their seat, Keir Hardie included. The 1896 pre-selection for the North Aberdeen constituency was contested by Keir Hardie and Tom Mann, another giant of the workers’ movement. Though no longer a member, Mann was supported by the Social Democratic Federation. Tom Mann was selected over Hardie to contest the seat for the ILP. He lost by a mere 430 votes.

Other examples include early communist candidates for parliament, such as Saklatvala, who was endorsed by the local Communist Party, the Battersea Trades Council and the Battersea Labour Party in the 1920s.

It is this tradition of our movement, the tradition of the united front for working class independence, which we should be emulating. In the forthcoming Uxbridge by-election (a seat contested by the Socialist Party in May), it is this method we should be applying. Electoral pacts, far from side-tracking our tasks, can only highlight and strengthen the urgent need for candidates to stand independently of Labour, as the early leaders of the workers’ movement knew. Socialist candidates opposing one another can only demoralise workers looking for a clear alternative to Blair.

As our SLP branches look towards the local government elections next year, they should be discussing with other working class and socialist forces in order to develop such united work.

That could provide a real basis for starting to create an alternative to Blair. As SLP member Dave Osler writes (Weekly Worker June 12), “Imagine Livingstone, Corbyn, Nellist, Sheridan and Scargill on the same ticket in the 2002 general election”; unfortunately, for the moment, that appears to be beyond the imagination of leadership.

Constitution straitjacket

Socialist Labour’s London regional conference takes place this Sunday (June 29). There are two items on the agenda: first, a report on the general election, particularly the election in London and; second, the conference will then elect an 11-person London Regional Committee.

Unfortunately, there will not be full democratic representation at this conference. Only those SLP members in registered and recognised constituency parties are eligible to send delegates. The letter of invitation to the conference from Brian Heron states: “Members who are unable to be part of a CSLP at this time will be invited to attend the conference as observers.” This is a further symptom of the SLP leadership trying to force a living party into the straitjacket of its preconceived ‘constitution’. Creating two tiers of membership, with some denied rights in the establishment of the London committee, is not acceptable.