Democratic Platform builds new unity

Simon Harvey of the SLP

The Democratic Platform of the Socialist Labour Party met last Saturday to discuss the way forward for the left of the SLP. The meeting provided an opportunity for the democratic forces inside the SLP to build on the unity reached at congress last December. Unfortunately the opposite occurred. The Democratic Platform split down the middle, with half of those at the Reading meeting walking out of the SLP.

For some time now, it has been clear that Martin Wicks, the main coordinator of the Democratic Platform, has been angling for this bloc to decamp from the SLP and form yet another leftwing groupuscule with himself as leader. The fact that Democratic Platform meetings were held in Reading, his ‘power base’, indicated that he was more interested in this than in fashioning an effective weapon against the witch hunts and fighting for genuine democracy in the SLP. Although he has achieved his pathetic aim, he has fortunately been unsuccessful in liquidating the Democratic Platform. Comrades representing all pro-democracy tendencies remaining in the SLP are now united under its banner. While not as strong as we were at congress, the Democratic Platform is in a good position to consolidate and augment its forces.

It is worthwhile noting that Martin Wicks and his south-west England followers initially organised around a document centred on the SLP’s general election strategy. These comrades called for a minimum number of SLP candidates and a vote for Blair’s Labour Party in all other constituencies. Although they objected to the witch hunt, their prime concern was to ensure that their Labourite election strategy was discussed in the party.

Such an approach is not surprising. Martin Wicks was intimately involved in the one and only formal meeting convened by the Fourth International Supporters Caucus. Whether he fell out with Brian Heron and Pat Sikorski, or whether he just could not stomach the blatant hypocrisy needed to carry out the Fisc agenda, I do not know. But around issues such as Europe and the general election, comrade Wicks decided to go it alone. He split from Fisc and published Socialist Perspectives, which circulated within his own restricted coterie. Supposedly against the witch hunt, he has now formed an organisation whose first political act was to bar communists.

The meeting which led to this split was initially conducted in a very comradely and open fashion. Despite the positive mood of the left in the face of the leadership split at congress, the meeting discussed only one issue - whether to stay in the SLP or leave.

Those in favour of leaving were reduced to one argument: that it was impossible to remain in such a dreadful organisation. The most extreme example of this came from Geoff Barr, who said: “We cannot move forward chained to Scargill.” He declared that he was not “doing any more fawning and grovelling”.

Other comrades argued that it is against working class morality to just walk out of a workers’ organisation. They criticised this method, suggesting that those who had previously “fawned and grovelled” before Scargill need not have done so then, and need not do so now. Some of these comrades went into the SLP with the idea that it was ‘Arthur’s party’ and are leaving it for the same reason. It is merely their illusions in Arthur Scargill which have changed.

Martin Wicks provided the most valiant attempt to politicise this petty-bourgeois moralism. He said that there were no further political gains to be made inside the SLP. This is based on his assessment that no new forces will join.

On two grounds, comrade Wicks’s argument is false. First is his claim that militant workers do not join bureaucratic organisations; second is his belief in greener pastures outside the SLP.

The entire history of the 20th century shows that militant workers do join bureaucratic organisations. Trade unions to begin with. On top of this militants have at times flooded the ranks of social democratic organisations and the ‘official communist’ parties.

In the minds of many workers, Scargill is not some bureaucratic demagogue, but the militant miners’ leader who stood up to Thatcher. For want of another alternative, radicalised workers could yet turn to the SLP.

What of the argument that greener pastures lie outside Socialist Labour? Comrades remaining inside pointed out that, apart from the SLP, there was no real party process to the left of the Labour Party. The Socialist Alliances, while a positive development, largely remain as just a good idea outside Scotland.

It was pointed out that SLP membership need not preclude activity in the Socialist Alliances. In fact, part of the tasks of comrades in the SLP should be to involve their local party organisations in the Alliances, no matter what edicts Scargill may proclaim. The fact that Hugh Kerr and Ken Coates seem intent on involving themselves in the SAs but not the SLP is a sure sign of Scargill’s sectarian weakness on this issue.

After an indicative vote - a small majority favoured leaving the SLP - the two camps had separate meetings.  The first real controversy arose when two voided members - both communists - were barred from the Wicks meeting. The only reason given was their assumed membership of the CPGB. A member of Worker’s Action and a member of the Socialist Democracy Group were in attendance at this meeting. Neither voted for the two communists to remain, raising a cloud over the purported democratic credentials of the SDG as well. Those leaving decided to form a new group - Socialist Perspectives. So now we have yet another left group to add to an already crowded field.

The continuing meeting of the SLP Democratic Platform was constructive and comradely. It was decided to prepare a bulletin for SLP members and a statement was agreed. After some heated debate the Democratic Platform agreed to propose joint work with Socialist Perspectives, which would not preclude a joint publication. The Democratic Platform also proposed a joint approach to the Socialist Alliances. Both these offers were rejected.

On a positive note, what remains of the SLP left seems to have finally united around a principled bloc for democracy. In addition, it has no illusions in its assessment of prospects for the SLP and will be pursuing all avenues toward building a working class alternative to New Labour.

Individualism or collectivism?

It is worthwhile responding to comrade Ian Driver’s letter in last week’s Weekly Worker (January 8). Like those who have formed Socialist Perspectives, his motivations, though well intended, have all the hallmarks of an individual moralist who has had his unrealistic illusions in the SLP shattered.

Comrade Driver claims it was the Weekly Worker “who called upon Labour lefts to join the SLP on the basis of the fact that constitutional change in New Labour rendered socialists in that party powerless”. This is not true. My understanding of the position of the CPGB contradicts this on two grounds. Firstly, socialists have never had any real power in the Labour Party. Secondly, the CPGB, while calling on Labour lefts to join the SLP, did not call on them to leave New Labour. It is the principled position of the CPGB, one which I share, that socialists have a responsibility towards the comrades they organise with. It is the act of an individual to up and leave. The principled collectivist fights for their perspectives within the organisation and tries to win over their comrades. If they are expelled in the process, so be it.

Scargill should not have torn up his Labour Party card: he should have formed the SLP as a Labour Party member. Let the bastards throw you out, and organise with those still on the inside. Party cards should not be treated as souvenirs of revolutionary tourism.

Comrade Driver imagines that organising for militant democracy in the SLP somehow precludes you from turning towards the wider movement. This is simply not the case. As he well knows, supporters of this paper in the SLP have always called for SLP democrats to turn to “the Labour left, the Socialist Party, the environmental and anti-racist movement and trade unions - and begin the work of constructing a genuine, broad-based, militant, anti-capitalist organisation”.

So what does he propose SLP democrats actually do? Join the Socialist Democracy Group, naturally. Does that include me, Ian? And does he call on all CPGB supporters, the Marxist Bulletin, SLP Republicans and the Democratic Platform to join his group?

Comrade Driver is speaking as an isolated - and confused - individual activist, not as someone proposing a serious alternative for the class.