Let he who is without sin ...

Simon Harvey reported last week that Socialist Labour Party members in south-east London are actively cooperating with the Socialist Party (see ‘Blow against sectarianism’ Weekly Worker July 17).

SLP national executive member Terry Dunn, who is contesting the Churchdown ward in this week’s council by-election in Lewisham, states in his election address: “If elected, I will be working with other socialists” - specifically the SLP’s Tony Link and Ian Page of the Socialist Party, both councillors who have defected from New Labour. Many London comrades have been supporting the campaign, including vice-president Patrick Sikorski, not usually known for his championing of left unity.

While the SLP leadership is pushing Terry Dunn’s campaign, it is leaving the Socialist Party a clear run in the Uxbridge parliamentary by-election, where Julie Leonard is the SP’s candidate (see Simon Harvey’s ‘Our party and elections’, p7).

The Socialist (July 11) reports that its comrades are backing the SLP in a council by-election in Bristol in return for Socialist Labour’s endorsement of the SP’s own candidate for a Swindon seat in May. We hear that the SP had also agreed not to contest a seat in the Swansea ward of West Cross in order to back the SLP’s candidate. Unfortunately however, no SLP nomination was submitted and neither was the SP informed of the fact in time to enter the fray itself.

The Socialist’s July 11 article, written by the SP’s national organiser, Mike Waddington, also reports Arthur Scargill’s reply to the letter sent to him by Swindon SLP members and endorsed by others, mainly in the west of England (see Weekly Worker June 12 for the text of the letter and Weekly Worker July 3 for Scargill’s response).

The Swindon comrades had raised several points concerning inner-party democracy, but the SLP acting general secretary retorted that the letter “clearly aims at undermining the democratically agreed structure and policies of the Socialist Labour Party”, adding that “this party will not tolerate ‘internecine warfare’ and ‘factionalism’”.

Comrade Waddington comments: “This attitude of taking criticism as an attack on the party itself will not make the SLP any more attractive and raises questions over its future.” Very true.

Unfortunately however, it is an attitude that is not entirely absent from the Socialist Party itself. A few weeks ago we reported the resignation of Nick Wrack from the editorship of Militant (see Weekly Worker June 26 for comrade Wrack’s letter). He describes how he was ostracised by the organisation’s general secretary, Peter Taaffe, after he circulated a document calling for Militant Labour’s name to be changed to ‘Militant Socialist Party’ in preference to the change touted by most of the leadership: ie, ‘Socialist Party’.

“From the beginning,” writes comrade Wrack, “I was treated as having acted in a disloyal way ... Lynn [Walsh] said that my document implied that the EC majority was in effect abandoning Marxism and Peter said that it was a fundamental attack on the position put by them both ... Opponents of the EC name proposal were ‘conservative’, ‘tired’, worn out’, or they had an axe to grind’, they were ‘anti-EC’.”

Comrade Wrack was not subject to the kind of disciplinary threats that Scargill employs in his attempt to silence his critics. Nevertheless, while the Socialist Party has moved some way from the previous secretive, ultra-sectarian method of working employed by the Militant Tendency, the Nick Wrack episode demonstrates just how far it has to go in developing a culture of healthy, honest debate, where criticising the leadership is not viewed as making “an attack on the party itself”.

Alan Fox