Black section uproar

Peter Manson reports on the SLP congress

The whole nature of the SLP is in crisis. The vote to sweep away the black section puts a question mark over the women’s and youth sections. All it took was the North West, Cheshire and Cumbria Miners’ Association 3,000 strong block vote, and there was a 3,297 to 506 majority.

If the block votes from both the NWCCMA and the national black section itself (75 votes) are removed, it is clear that most delegations were in favour of retention. The leadership had recommended rejection of the constitutional amendment, with NEC member John Hendy arguing that such a change would give “entirely the wrong message”. Nevertheless Harpal Brar of Ealing Southall CSLP received enthusiastic backing from some delegates with his call for working class unity: “Don’t insult me by voting for me as a ‘black’. I am a worker and a communist.” In fact comrade Brar was elected to the NEC (in the constituency section) precisely because he is a leader of the Indian Workers Association with some influence in the black community. He was on the NEC’s ‘recommended’ list for that reason.

Brian Heron was totally opposed to the kind of centralised party comrade Brar envisaged. “I have a great deal of sympathy with the Russian Revolution,” said comrade Heron. “But we are not building the Bolshevik Party. If comrades want to build a Bolshevik Party, they should go and join one of the sects.” The entire strategy of Fisc and comrade Heron has been to build a British party of ‘recomposition’ under the unchallenged dictatorship of Arthur Scargill; in effect that means a Labour Party mark II.

The dispute over the black section is therefore about far more than the ways and means of combating racism. Communists have no objection to black, women or any other group of members of social democratic organisations coming together to press for changes. In a democratic centralist Communist Party, the oppression of women and black workers must be considered the business of the entire membership, and there would be no room for exclusivist committees based on creed or gender. However in the SLP the creation of the black section was hardly spontaneous: on the contrary it was cultivated as a Fisc power base.

Despite suffering its only defeat, the NEC - in the shape of comrade Scargill - sought to persuade delegates that there was no great loss. He informed them that in the last 18 months the black section had met only twice prior to the congress, with only a handful in attendance each time. Interestingly comrade Heron told the congress that the fate of the black sections has been discussed for a number of months on the NEC. Was the abolitionist ‘minority’ Arthur Scargill himself? It is hardly credible that NWCCMA would caste its crucial block vote in defiance of King Arthur.

Scargill has clipped the wings of Fisc. He has aligned himself with Harpal Brar. But he has paid a price. Imran Khan - who got the highest SLP vote in the May general election - refused to take up his NEC seat and boycotted the congress on the second day. More importantly the SLP will be viewed by many black activists as having gone back on its original aims and principles.

Fisc in retreat

The Fourth International Supporters Caucus has suffered a big setback in terms of its influence in the SLP. Immediately after the decision to end the black section was declared, Brian Heron announced he would not take up his post on the NEC if elected. Comrade Heron was followed to the rostrum by Imran Khan, Pat Sikorski, Roshan Dadoo, Carolyn Sikorski, Jan Pollock and Rachel Newton, each of them making the same announcement. Comrade Heron stated that the NEC had known for months that there would be a split if comrade Brar’s motion was successful.

The Fiscites determined to reassert their standing. Although this turn of events clearly shocked the congress, not all delegates sympathised with Fisc. One said: “Nobody has the right to say I’m taking my bat and ball away.”

Scargill faced a problem. If elected Fiscites were replaced with candidates who had obtained the next highest votes, he might be faced with a left opposition on the NEC and maybe even Roy Bull as vice-president. So the general secretary gave a “ruling” to SLP vice-president and congress chair Frank Cave: there would be six unfilled vacancies on the NEC.

That was a simple matter of bureaucratic manoeuvre. But Scargill faced a much more serious problem. One element of the alliance on which his Bonapartist project was founded was cleaving away before his eyes. For all his oratory, his reputation, he is absolutely bereft of political theory. He has relied on Fisc for theoretical gloss.

No wonder there was a series of huddled meetings and - no doubt - suggestions for saving Fisc’s face over the black section, a central plank of its programme. The second day, just before the election results were announced, Brian Heron returned to the rostrum once again. In what was either a genuine display of emotion or an Oscar-winning performance, he appeared to fight back tears before confirming the retreat of all the Fisc candidates. They had milked the crisis for all it was worth. Now they would take up their positions if elected after all.

The compromise has left the leadership alliance intact, but with Heron and Sikorski in a much weaker position. Not only have they lost their black section power base, but they have also lost credibility in the eyes of the membership.

Essential reading

One hundred and forty copies of the Weekly Worker, containing its pre-congress analysis, were distributed to SLP delegates and visitors over the weekend. The paper’s influence was also visible on the congress floor.

Alec McFadden, speaking in favour of an SLP takeover of the Morning Star, referred to its forerunner, the Daily Worker, which he stressed to delegates should “not to be confused in any way with the scurrilous Trotskyist rag, the Weekly Worker”. EPSR supporter Rod George inadvertently let the unmentionable slip out: “I read in the Weekly Worker ... er ... the leftwing press ...”

An EPSR motion to expel Weekly Worker supporters from the party was remitted to the NEC after several speakers opposed it, including vice-president candidate Alan Gibson.