Facing up to realities

Extracts from a discussion paper circulating within Lewisham and Greenwich Socialist Labour Party

Following the dramatic events of the party congress our branch needs to thoroughly assess the nature and future direction of our party and our work as communists, socialists and radicals. Failure to do this could result in a number of active members being lost to the party.

The call to establish the SLP was a correct one. In less than two years it has established itself as a small but significant break with New Labour and the Labour Party. Militant trade union leaders, union activists, and socialists from a wide range of backgrounds have been drawn to its ranks.

Despite our small size, our influence within the labour movement is important, which is in direct inversion to the much larger Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party. Tensions and splits within these organisations are developing as a direct result of our presence.

The party stood 63 candidates in the general election, two of those in Lewisham. Over six million people saw our election broadcast, four million election addresses were delivered, hundreds of thousands were able to read about our policies on Ceefax, thousands of homes were canvassed and we gained over 52,000 votes, the highest socialist vote to the left of the LP since the CPGB in 1966. Our candidates gained almost two percent on average.

Locally we have built from the ground up one of one of the largest and most active branches in the party. We gained one of the highest votes for the party in standing John [Mulrenan] in Deptford. We delivered thousands of leaflets and participated in numerous meetings arguing for socialist politics.

We have fought two council by-elections and gained over five percent of the vote in July for Terry Dunn. Comrade Tony Link, a ward councillor for Hither Green, has joined us, forming a partnership on the council with councillor Ian Page from the SP in working to defend jobs and services.

We have established a Save Lewisham Housing Campaign and have made links with tenant activists and local trade unionists fighting off proposals to privatise over 7,000 tenants’ homes.

All this hard work, experience and activity must not be thrown away. Those socialists disappointed at the outcome of the party conference and planning to walk away from the party should be persuaded to remain. Notwithstanding the events at our congress, it is possible that a further layer of trade union activists and general LP members will break as the LP turns ever more rightwing. At present there is no alternative but to continue the work to win the party to a more democratic path. However, we should be alive to the developments outside the party and the possible formation of new political forces.

Yet as socialists we need to be sober about what we have achieved but also about what we are as a national party and in what direction the party is now likely to travel following our party conference. If we are unable to alter its course and direction over the next two years, we will need to ask and answer the question if as a branch we are content to remain a part of it.

Comrade Arthur Scargill is both our greatest asset and biggest liability. Membership of our party remains small at probably less than 3,000 with all too few active members, and not surprisingly over the last six months we have lost members. Authoritarian party regimes gradually depoliticise and demotivate members.

Our party could have already grown into a substantial organisation and formed the basis of a party of recomposition of the British left on a similar level to those in Italy, Spain and Germany. It still has the potential to do so. To perform such a task it will have to be open, pluralistic and democratic. The leadership of our party could have been based on the best of talents from the breadth of our party rather than the ‘approved’ and hand-picked. The decision of the party to abolish black sections further reduces the possibility of the party attracting additional layers of support, especially in London.

We should continue to ignore the sectarian attitude of the party leadership. The politics adopted at our conference makes our job harder, but we should continue our work in building a socialist party from the bottom up. We need to present a pluralistic and non-sectarian face locally. Working to build trade union solidarity work, supporting local workers in struggle and defending jobs and services.

The immediate direction of the SLP is now clear The SLP is in danger of becoming a large sect, with strong hangovers from the worst of the ‘old’ LP. A far cry from the sort of new socialist party many of us wanted to see. The party is likely to be increasingly dominated by Arthur Scargill and his entourage in the short term. It was inevitable that our party would have the birth marks of its founder, but those counterbalancing his Stalinist tendencies now have a much weaker position on the NEC.

The election of the leader and founder of the Stalin Society onto the NEC could even draw into the party’s orbit members of the Stalinist New Communist Party and Indian Workers Association. The dream of the Weekly Worker for a reforged CP could be coming true! The rest of Europe is seeing the demise of Stalinist parties. In Britain we are perhaps seeing a rebirth!

The events of our congress have demonstrated that three men were planning to cast 3,000 secret votes from a retired miners’ welfare society, swamping the hard won 1,000 members from the 114 CSLPs and single trade union branch represented. The result was that the leadership gained re-election on block and won all the votes by a landslide margin, apart from the black sections vote.

Unless the direction of the party is changed, sadly we cannot expect our party to become the sole basis of a new socialist party in Britain. Our task must be to ensure that the SLP goes on to play an active role in the likely emergence of new forces of the left.

Lewisham SLP

Socialist Democracy Group