Helpful advice

Around the left

It’s gratifying to know that the Weekly Worker is becoming an authoritative source of information on the SLP. Indeed, virtually no article on the SLP these days is complete without some reference, whether explicitly or implicitly, to the Weekly Worker. Just as our predecessor, The Leninist, was the only reliable source of information on the secret faction warfare simmering away within the old CPGB, so it is with the Weekly Worker today.

It has to be said that this is quite a development - and a very healthy one as well. The old sectarian divisions are, glacier-like, beginning to melt away. Most left publications used to studiously ignore our very existence, despite the fact that these very same groups came into regular physical-material contact with CPGB members and supporters. Perhaps it is because we do not conform to the neat, schematic division of the workers’ movement into either ‘Stalinist’ or ‘Trotskyite’. Or perhaps they were too busy. How things have moved on.

This time it is Workers’ Liberty which has paid its regards to the Weekly Worker, in an article unimaginatively entitled, ‘Whither Scargill’s party?’ Of course, the most interesting thing about the article is not so much that it draws heavily on the analysis developed by the Weekly Worker - though that helps, of course - but the light it sheds on the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty attitude towards the Socialist Labour Party. A distinctly confused and untheorised attitude, for sure.

The AWL’s approach is still characterised by a doctrinaire detachment - hence it calls the SLP election results “terrible”. Agreed, they were not spectacularly good. But then again, under the circumstances they were not grounds for suicide either. We also see the AWL’s hankering for ideological and political purity, a dislike of the messiness of reality. Thus, “First the SLP has never been clear on what kind of organisation it is. Does it aim to be a mass movement of the working class, organising and fighting to win reforms from the bosses - a workers’ party based on trade union affiliation, a refoundation of the Labour Party? ... Or is the Socialist Labour Party a revolutionary socialist party?” (July 1997).

Does the SLP have to fit into a neat category before the AWL will support it, get involved in it? If so, it will wait for ever, as real life does not tend to throw up the politically ‘pure’ formations it is seeking. Also, the above is quite a curious formulation. You get the distinct impression that the SLP would be OK by the AWL if it was, or became, “a refoundation of the Labour Party”, but not so good if it was a “revolutionary socialist party”. But then again, if you believe that a mass, centrist halfway house is a historically preordained necessity, it starts to make perfect sense.

The articleproceeds to catalogue the sins of the SLP - and the fact that they have been lifted from the Weekly Worker does not diminish their essential correctness. Correctly, comrade Helen Rate points to the disastrous “lack of respect for basic democratic norms” and how it cannot “by any democratic working class standard be reasonable to summarily ‘void’ whole branches and expel members by the unchallengeable dictats of the leadership against which the poor ‘voidees’ have no right of appeal or redress”.

Interestingly, in a comment on the SLP ‘constitution’, comrade Rate recalls: “The constitution was designed to stop ‘alien’ groups from invading the SLP and to block off any legal comeback from such groups. Ironically, Scargill used to argue against similar tactics when Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock used them against the left in the Labour Party.” Scargill has indeed turned into his historical opposite, and comrade Rate is right to say, “Democracy in the SLP is only for those who agree with Arthur Scargill” - at the moment.

The AWL’s ‘remedy’ is a hopeless muddle, of course, based as it on a strictly moralistic criterion: “Right now the SLP is not a fit vehicle to organise the refounding of the labour movement. The idea that it is an alternative to the Labour Party is a puerile fantasy.” But if you want a really feeble “puerile fantasy”, look no further than the AWL. Heads-down and depressed, it informs us: “If in the end there is split in the movement, if we have to move towards founding a new Labour Representation Committee, it would be a step backwards - but we will engage in that task with as much vigour as we can muster” (my emphasis). What inspiring stuff. The AWL is prepared to take a “step backwards” with their hypothetical LRC but held aloof from the very real left break from Labour which the SLP represented -  in that sense a step forward. Abstractions are obviously more inviting to the AWL than the real class struggle.

The article ends up telling SLP members “to rethink what the SLP is and what it has set out to do. They must also wake up to what it has become.” It even urges SLP members to “help” the AWL in “preserving the Labour-trade union link”.

Not very helpful, AWL comrades. Those militants and comrades who made the brave decision to leave the Labour bosom are advised to return to Blair’s party - not that he would have them of course.

Thanks a lot for the advice, but no thanks - and keep on reading very carefully the Weekly Worker. You could do with some advice yourselves, comrades.

Don Preston