Socialist News - Scargill’s solution
Group issues platform as congress nears
Congress is now just a week away. Most of the more controversial motions have been kept down the agenda and will be remitted to the incoming NEC. One central issue the party as a whole needs to discuss is the role of Socialist News.
Unfortunately the leadership seems intent on keeping that debate for the NEC alone. Motion 36 from the NEC is way down the agenda at number 14 in the pre-congress document. It reads: “Congress calls upon the NEC to introduce arrangements which will enable every individual member of the party to receive a copy of the party’s newspaper Socialist News on a subscription basis delivered to their home. In addition, congress calls upon the party to try to ensure that each constituency orders at least 50 copies of the paper on a regular basis and also calls upon the NEC to try to arrange with affiliated trade unions and trade unions generally to place a regular order for Socialist News. Congress calls for to be taken [sic] as quickly as possible bearing in mind the need not only to build sales of Socialist News on a regular basis and in a way which enable the paper to be produced eventually on a weekly basis” [sic].
What the motion amounts to is an attempt to introduce a levy on party members. It has already been suggested making subscription to the paper a condition of membership. This is an attempt to put it into practice. The motion views the party paper as a technical question. Such an attempt to solve what is essentially a political problem by bureaucratic means would result in it becoming a crippling financial burden on what are for the most part paper SLP constituency branches (most consist of no more than five people).
While the style of Socialist News is improving of late - we have even had an ‘internal party debate’ over China spill into its pages - its content remains rightwing and rather staid. Its eclecticism, rather than being an outcome of the cut and thrust of debate between comrades, is more to do with a lack of cohesion, failure to understand the political role of the party press and the absence of a clear editorial vision.
Scargill has sufficient grasp of political reality to know that it is useful for the party to have a paper. He had to fight for this against some in the leadership, who have spent too many wet Saturdays outside Tesco’s trying to sell papers no one wanted to buy.
The NEC subscription proposal removes the role of the paper in making contact with supporters and inactive members. Rather than engaging and activating the party’s periphery, it will add to its atomisation. Bulk orders lying around union offices or unsold under comrades’ beds cannot solve the problem.
The only enduring solution is to make Socialist News a political newspaper, by opening its pages to democratic debate from all class conscious workers and utilising it as a party organiser. Only then will our party be able to build political commitment to the paper. Members and supporters would willingly distribute such a journal and opponents would have to buy it. Such a development will not come from the current leadership: it will have to be fought for by the membership.
There are six other motions in this agenda item. Two are representative of the politics of the homophobic Economic and Philosophic Science Review and come from Tooting CSLP and Hazel Grove CSLP. To their credit, they are arguing for the paper to become the party’s collective educator and organiser, calling for explanation and analysis (but not debate) around “political and economic developments of great significance ... as they happen” (motion 37, Tooting CSLP). But these sociopaths think it should also be used to witch hunt revolutionaries and democrats in the party; or, as they put it, to expose “the repeated attempts by individualistic and (primarily) Trotskyite-orientated entryists to sabotage the party by attacks on its leadership, its unitary [sic] constitution and its discipline” (Tooting); or even to “rout every aspect of bourgeois ideological control corrupting working class thinking” (motion 39, Hazel Grove CSLP), amongst which they no doubt include homosexuality.
Republican Platform revisited
The Weekly Worker has now been sent various documents from a number of sources relating to candidates and platforms which will be contesting the NEC elections at congress. I have also managed to get a copy of the platform of the SLP Republicans (right). I contacted one of their supporters to tell them the Weekly Worker intended to publish their document. They were not happy and demanded to know where I got it from. They said it was the business of SLP members alone and that the Weekly Worker had no right to print it. They refused to comment further.
This is clearly the wrong attitude for the comrade to take. It is vital that as many party members and other class-conscious workers as possible are able to read such documents in the run-up to congress. This can only improve clarity and aid the political development of our class. It also serves to undermine the Machiavellian approach to ‘tactics’ by party members jockeying for NEC positions. The most ridiculous attempt at this has been Roy Bull’s attempt to pose as an opponent of homophobia.
It is a welcome development that some in the SLP are beginning to take republicanism and the national question more seriously, as well as tackling the vital issue of party democracy. Nevertheless, there are pertinent criticisms to be made of the Republican Platform.
Despite the republicans’ attempt to emphasise political, as opposed to purely economic, struggle as the way forward, the preamble suggests an incomplete break with economism. It states: “First the party must play a leading role in the struggles to defend wages, jobs, democratic rights and the benefits of the welfare state.” This is an unclear formulation. Despite going on to stress the importance of the struggle for democratic rights, it propose this as the secondary focus for the party. Economic struggle seems to come first.
The platform calls for a ‘new type of party’ which includes reformists and revolutionaries. The SLP Republicans propose that “republicanism can provide a focal point for party unity”. This is a fudge. What sort of republicanism are we talking about? A parliamentary republic, which is clearly Scargill’s goal, or a revolutionary republic?
These comrades seem to misunderstand the role of democracy in a workers’ party. It is not a shield for “protecting minority points of view”, but is the living process by which real unity in action is developed between majority and minority. Real party democracy also allows for previous minority positions to become majority - democracy is not about ‘protecting’ the part, but of strengthening the whole.
A central plank of the platform is the demand for a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales and for a united Ireland, which I fully support. However, the document also states: “We must mobilise the working class to win a republic as an important step towards socialism.” This is problematic. By presenting this demand in such a way, the Republican Platform seems to collapse into a stageist approach. How big is the ‘step’ between the republic and socialism?
This is perhaps the central weakness of the platform. The demand for a federal republic is only a revolutionary demand when it is a minimum demand as part of an overall revolutionary programme. Mobilising our class around such political and democratic demands is not an end in itself, but the very mechanism for collective working class self-activity, leading to the attainment of political power which continues ‘uninterruptedly’, as Lenin put it, to undertake socialist tasks.
The Republican Platform fails to develop this vital point of the revolutionary minimum programme. In that sense, it seems to collapse into a stage-by-stage approach to socialism, which is a false road.
Finally, despite declaring themselves as communists as well as republicans, in section four, ‘For communist aims and principles’, the comrades fail to mention a central strategic task for our class: the struggle for a Communist Party. Instead, they merely seek accommodation within the SLP
Simon Harvey of the SLP
World capitalism, in its drive for ever greater profits, has concentrated massive wealth into the hands of the banks and multinationals, whilst producing mass unemployment and growing poverty for millions of the world’s citizens. The recent instability in the world’s stock markets indicate that capitalism is moving towards a new general crisis. In the United Kingdom, successive capitalist governments have pursued policies of attacking workers’ rights, democratic rights and civil liberties, dismantling the welfare state, and integrating with European capitalism. Opposition to these developments is producing great strains within the old constitutional and political system. The future of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the House of Lords, the monarchy and first-past-the-post electoral system are now being questioned. The issue of constitutional reform has become a major battle ground between political parties. The SLP must focus its campaigning work on two major areas of struggle.
First the party must play a leading role in the struggles to defend wages, jobs, democratic rights and the benefits of the welfare state. Second, if the working class is to make new advances in the current period of constitutional change, the SLP must champion the struggle for democratic rights, not only in the workplace, but in society and the state.
1. For a republican party of the working class
The working class has no republican party of its own and therefore remains dependent on the monarchist Labour Party on all issues relating to how the UK should be governed (eg, Scottish and Welsh devolution). Labour policies serve the constitutional interests of capitalism. We want the SLP clearly and openly identified as the republican party of the working class.
A new type of party
A republican SLP must be a new type of anti-capitalist party, within which both socialists and communists can work together and openly debate their differences. We do not see any future for the SLP as the party of old Labour. Nor do we see the SLP as an old-style communist party of the 1950s and 60s. A republican SLP has the potential to unite both ex-Labour Party socialists with those from a communist and Marxist tradition. Whilst socialists and communists have important political differences, republicanism can provide a focal point for party unity.
A democratic SLP
A republican SLP must be organised on a democratic basis. The democratic process provides the best means of harnessing the energies of socialists and communists in united action. It fosters open debate and majority decision-making, whilst protecting minority points of view. Our task is to build and extend the democratic foundations of the SLP. We want to see the democratic rights of rank and file members, and not simply the rights of the leadership, supported by the constitution.
2. For a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales
The SLP must adopt a programme of republican and democratic demands and fight vigorously for these demands in elections, in the trade unions and in wider social movements and progressive campaigns. We must mobilise the working class to win a republic as an important step towards socialism. We are calling on the party to adopt the following:
A federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales
- Self-determination for Ireland, Scotland and Wales
- A united Ireland
- Proportional representation
- Single chamber (unicameral) biennial parliaments
- MPs subject to recall and paid no more than the average wage
- Separation of church from the state
- Full freedom of information
- Election of judges
A republican constitution and bill of rights
The bill of rights to include: the democratic rights of all citizens; equal rights for women, lesbians and gay men, ethnic minorities and the disabled; and workers’ rights, including the right to work, right to minimum income, and full trade union rights
Trade union democracy
We are for strengthening trade union democracy. We are for building independent rank and file groups in every union. All trade union officials, including the TUC, must be regularly elected, accountable, subject to recall and paid at the average wage.
Democracy in the workplace
We are for workers’ control of industry. We are for the election of workplace councils with powers to supervise management. We are for the election of delegates from workplace councils to local, regional and national assemblies.
A democratic workers’ Europe
We are opposed not only to the constitutional monarchy, but also to the European Union and the treaties upon which it is founded. All these constitutions and treaties serve the interests of the capitalists and the multinational corporations. But we are no more in favour of ‘withdrawing’ from the European Union than we are of ‘withdrawing’ from the United Kingdom. We are for building European-wide trade unions and workers’ parties. We seek to build unity with the German, French, Italian and other European working classes. We are in favour of abolishing the existing constitution of the European Union and uniting the working classes of Europe into a single democratic federal state.
3. For the united front
In the current period where the defence of the existing gains made by the working class is one of our priorities, we are in favour of united front work with the rest of the left. We should seek every opportunity for joint campaigns and activities with other parties and organisations of the left including, for example, the Labour left, Socialist Party, SWP and the Scottish Socialist Alliance, wherever it is possible. In terms of challenging new Labour’s agenda, a republican SLP can become the leading political force on the left by uniting and mobilising the rest of the left behind republican demands.
4. For communist aims and principles
We are not only republicans, but also communists. We believe that genuine communists are the most militant republicans. We therefore support communist aims and principles:
Working class democracy
We see the struggle for democracy as central to the struggle for socialism. We fight for working class democracy. Whilst we are in favour of standing candidates in elections and utilising parliamentary struggle, we believe that socialism cannot come through parliament. Our aim is for a workers’ republic, replacing the bourgeois parliament with a workers’ ‘parliament’ based on delegates from workers’ councils.
The class struggle is international. We support the principles of internationalism. We stand for the abolition of world capitalism and its replacement by a classless, cooperative, world communist society. We see the international socialist revolution as the transitional period between world capitalism and world communism. We accept that the SLP is not a communist party. But we want communist aims and principles to be accepted as a legitimate component of the SLP. This should be identified in the SLP constitution.