Happier times: Ian Driver (right) with Pat Sikorski and Arthur Scargill

New democratic organisation

Peter Manson asked comrade Driver how he now sees the left moving forward

Many will say that you have abandoned the fight for democracy in the SLP.

Much as I support the SLP democrats - and I wish them every success - it has to be said that they are very unlikely to win. I admire their courage, but the odds are stacked against them. Scargill and his people will stitch up the congress. They have already ruled constitutional amendments out of order, and most leftwingers will be excluded from the congress.

Scargill has written to those people who signed the Swindon statement asking them to explain themselves, and I understand that he has also written to the Marxist Bulletin people telling them that the drawing up of a slate for the NEC elections and circulating it to branches is ‘unconstitutional’.

So I don’t think the left can win. They are fighting a losing battle, and I have decided to put my energies into something a bit more fruitful - I don’t want to be part of a Stalinist organisation.

But haven’t you taken the easy option, instead of staying on to fight at the congress? Surely you have played into Scargill’s hands?

You could be right. Perhaps I should have stayed to fight at congress, but I took the decision to go - I was fed up with fighting a losing battle. I don’t want to be in an organisation that restrains your energies and stops people from taking initiatives. But it is not an easy option. Now I’m going to work with others on the left who are interested in regrouping.

In six months to a year the SLP will collapse - it will become a tiny sectarian group. Yet there is a new feeling for a non-sectarian grouping - we need to work now to build another group that can become a new pole of attraction. A group that could attract SLP members who become demoralised or burned out.

What sort of grouping have you in mind?

There are a number of people I’ve met - people in different organisations as well as in the SLP - and there are a growing number who are coming to the idea that the left needs a new organisation. The days of sectarian politics, of authoritarian leadership, are at an end.

We need to look at this whole question in a new way. It goes back to the break-up of Stalinism. Socialists now realise that organisations must be set up on a democratic basis, without dictatorial bureaucracy. Scargill has become just another Ted Grant, Tony Cliff or Gerry Healy - a big fish in a small pond.

We need to throw all our energies into the same arena. People may have different ideas and policies, but they can still work together. I thought that the SLP would have served that purpose, but it turned out to be just as sectarian and undemocratic. The left will either leave or be driven out and the SLP will become just a Scargill fan club.

We need to build our organisation bottom-up rather than top-down.

The CPGB says that the working class needs an organisation based on democratic centralism rather than consensus democracy.

At this moment in time we need a loose organisation, but that doesn’t exclude the possibility of democratic centralism at some stage. The essential thing now is to try and regroup, although that doesn’t exclude working with others - the Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Party, the SLP, the Labour left and the left of the green movement. The green movement has shown itself able to tap into youth - yet we on the left can’t. Some green issues have been taken up by the establishment, but the movement still has that radical edge we need to be engaging with.

And the CPGB too - I’d openly welcome you on board and you would be free to try and recruit.

Our aim is not so much to recruit to our own organisation as to win the idea of a Communist Party and recruit to that. We agree with the need for contending views and openness of ideas, but we will be able to take on the state only if we are armed with democratic centralism.

I wouldn’t personally want to join a democratic centralist organisation at this time, although I’m open to persuasion. We have a history of fighting each other and the first stage must be to cooperate on a loose, open basis. We need to break down the barriers that have kept us apart - we have to work together for common purposes.

Don’t you think the view you expressed that, compared to the SLP, the Labour Party is a “doyen of democracy” is overstated?

It might be a little exaggerated. Nevertheless in the Labour Party there is still more room for debate than in the SLP, although less so than previously. People have been arguing against the ‘Partnership in power’ proposals without being witch hunted as in the SLP.

Are you considering rejoining the Labour Party?

There will be major developments on the Labour left over the next year or two and we should be there. I am exploring the possibility of rejoining the Labour Party on that basis.

Having made the break with Labour, won’t you be taking a step backwards?

I’m sure some people will quite vehemently denounce me, but sometimes you have to retrace your steps in order to go forward. I ended up in a blind ally with the SLP, but I learned a hell of a lot. Positive things too, especially the people I met. It has been great from that point of view.

However, there is an area of work more productive than the SLP. The SLP is finished now - congress will read the last rites. In the long run it will perhaps do more harm than good and could become a block on socialist development.

I hope the SLP left will come to the same conclusions I have reached - I don’t want to see them driven out of politics. We need to create something new and better.