Democratic Platform conference: SLP left splits – again

Anti-communism is anti-communism, no matter who imposes it

The left of the Socialist Labour Party has split. The January 10 meeting of the Democratic Platform, held of all places in sleepy Reading, cleaved more or less down the middle, one half wanting to continue the struggle in the SLP, the other half opting for resignation and the creation of what looks set to dwindle into an exclusivist but essentially rightwing project.

Obviously the split in the Democratic Platform is in reaction to the SLP’s 2nd Congress of December 13-14 1997. Given the bureaucratic gerrymandering, the ruling out of order of countless resolutions and constitutional amendments, the three puppets with 3,000 votes, etc, the congress was indeed a “shambolic farce”. The terse protest statement, issued by 57 delegates and observers during the congress itself, damned the “complete travesty of democracy” witnessed at congress and ridiculed the authoritarian “actions and methods” of the Scargillite leadership (Weekly Worker December 18 1997). Yet in spite of all that was thrown against the left it is no exaggeration to say that it “performed creditably”.

The left is now able to operate semi-legally. Unlike May 4 1996 there was no Carolyn Sikorski barring unwanted delegates at the congress door. The left’s leaflets, publications and slates circulated freely. Fringe meetings were not banned or subject to organised disruption. Both the Campaign for a Democratic SLP and the Democratic Platform sponsored well attended events. When it came to National Executive Committee elections the left scored well with something like 30% of the membership vote (leaving aside the mammoth block vote wielded by ‘Lancashire NUM’ - that is, the North West, Cheshire and Cumbria Miners’ Association). In other words the left has de facto established its right to exist, agitate and be counted - albeit at considerable cost in terms of voidings, closed branches, etc.

Perhaps of equal importance to the standing of the left was the fact that there was a messy and very public schism between Scargill and the Fourth International Supporters Caucus of Brian Heron, Carolyn Sikorski, Patrick Sikorski, etc. The myth of a monolithic leadership around Scargill has been shattered and the left’s room for manoeuvre has thereby greatly increased.

Because Scargill rules the SLP as a labour dictator, such a falling out was inevitable. Courtiers, no matter how they fawn and flatter, have a definite sell-by date. True, the schism was papered over at the last moment in melodramatic fashion when Brian Heron tearfully announced Fisc’s capitulation. However, divisions over the black section - and the implicit threat to the women’s section - remain. Whatever the congenital cynicism of the Fiscites, they were genuinely hurt, angered and disorientated by the use of the decisive ‘Lancs NUM’ block vote to close their black section. Crucially Scargill no longer trusts them. Though they retain a presence on the NEC, the star of Fisc has considerably waned. Scargill’s recent bizarre pronouncements in praise of JV Stalin indicate that it is Harpal Brar, editor of Lalkar, who now has the ear of the ideologically uncouth and shallow SLP general secretary.

Under these circumstances the left should be cautiously optimistic. Scargill is strong bureaucratically but weak politically. Resort to a highly dubious 3,000 block vote was a desperate measure by a desperate man. Evidently without it he was not sure of the congress outcome. With 3,000 votes in his back pocket Scargill could organisationally overwhelm the left and get his way on every single issue. But in terms of political legitimacy there was an enormous price to pay. Many of Scargill’s closest NUMist allies knew nothing of this so-called “bona fide trade union” affiliation and visibly suffered moral meltdown when it was suddenly pulled out of the hat. Terry Dunn and Davy Proctor wore ashen expressions throughout the second day. In other words there is the potential for rapid shifts and radical realignments within the SLP.

But it is precisely the conditions which have created this potential that have driven the soft left in the SLP to walk out before decisive battle has been joined. Hard won gains are being thrown away.

Those elements who came into the SLP in the naive belief that at last they had a broad and democratic working class party have been bitterly disappointed by Scargill’s outrageous shenanigans. Those who blamed the anti-communist witch hunt on the victims have seen its methods crystallise into a bureaucratic system. Those who are theoretically weak - the anti-Leninists, the pro-Labourites - were always prone to petty bourgeois moralism ... and that, sad to say, is all that was on display from the soft left at the Reading meeting of the Democratic Platform.

Half the meeting was pig-headedly determined to desert the SLP and thus split the SLP left no matter what. Why? Because of Scargill’s “Stalinist” dictatorship and the “exodus of membership” (Martin Wicks - ex Fisc). Because the SLP “practises a form of ‘English socialism’” and “makes no attempt to organise internationally” (Pete Bloomer - Workers Action supporter). Because they have had enough of “grovelling” (Geoff Barr - ex-WRP). Because people will not be “attracted” to the SLP in the future (Berkshire area SLP).

Here we have political squeamish-ness combined with clairvoyancy. There can be no denying the distasteful nature of the Scargill regime, the clumsy, top-down decision-making, the ability of Scargill to demoralise and repel as well as attract and galvanise. But that has been true since day one of the SLP. Certainly the witch hunt effectively commenced in December 1995 when Scargill issued and then enforced Bonapartist imposition of his ‘draft’ constitution (it contained anti-communist clauses plagiarised from the Labour Party).

The real question is whether or not the SLP is finished. As a vehicle that can facilitate the self-liberation of the working class the SLP was a nonstarter. The 1st Congress established the SLP as a unique right-centrist political formation - semi-Labourite, semi-syndicalist, semi-‘official communist’ under the personal domination of one man. Therefore not Labourite, not Stalinite, not NUMist ... but Scargillite. The key task of revolutionaries and communists consequently became the fight to establish the democratic right to openly organise and freely propagate their views. As suggested above, there have been certain advances here.

We have been told by the soft left that workers do not join bureaucratic parties. Transparently untrue. The Labour Party has a mass membership of workers ... and not only through trade union affiliations. In Western Europe - France, Italy, Spain, Germany - ‘official communist’ parties embraced hundreds of thousands in spite of blatantly undemocratic theory and practice. So in terms of both past and present the notion of workers shunning bureaucratic parties has nothing to do with an objective statement of fact. It is rather a subjective wish, and a refusal to face up to the hard tasks and struggles that lie ahead if we are ever to overcome the domination of bourgeois ideas - which permeate all strata of society.

What of the SLP? Frankly it is too early to write it off. Much will depend on what happens with the Labour Party. Tony Blair has effectively de-Labourised Labour. Under his premiership British politics are being realigned around neo-liberalism and a remodelled UK constitution. His is undoubtedly the most rightwing Labour government ever and with the attack on single parents the honeymoon period is surely over. Thus far the trade union bureaucracy has proved utterly supine. The Labour left is a miserable shell of its former self and is without social roots. As a subject - ie, maker - of history, the working class has for the moment been defeated by the forces of triumphant capital because of the failure of social democracy and ‘official communism’. And yet the market system is far from healthy. As shown by South Korea, Indonesia and Singapore, it faces the looming prospect of a new general crisis, not another 1950s-60s golden age. Capitalism can survive only at the expense of living labour. The welfare state is Blair’s first target. Our wages, democratic rights and organisations will be next. Under such circumstances it is foolish in the extreme to dismiss the SLP as a possible conduit of discontent.

Arthur Scargill might have discredited himself in the eyes of the soft left. But for millions he is a potent symbol of militancy, of intransigence, of socialistic principle. Today that exercises little or no gravitational pull. But tomorrow may well be different.

Pity the class that needs such a hero. A working class that turns to Scargill is a class only in itself. But a mass turn to Scargill cannot be ruled out. That is why it is wrong, irresponsible and premature to desert the positions the left has gained for itself in the SLP.

Communists and other comrades must rebuild the Democratic Platform so as to extend our salient within the SLP. While it has the potential to attract those who enter the field of class struggle, the SLP remains a site for communist intervention. Combative workers are our natural constituency and would quickly and easily be broken from the national socialist spell of Scargillism.

That is not to say we should put all our energies and hopes into the SLP - far from it. The SLP left must actively promote and support the formation of an all-Britain Socialist Alliance as well as other such united front bodies and campaigns. It should also identify and closely align itself with the CPGB. The fact that the CPGB has engaged with the SLP but at the same time maintained itself as a revolutionary pole of attraction shows that it is quite feasible to pursue a twin-track strategy.

Communists in the SLP should certainly join the CPGB. Dual membership is against the Scargill constitution, but that is no barrier for genuine revolutionaries. It could not be more clear: to have liquidated the CPGB, as demanded by Scargill and urged by some elements of the SLP left, would have been criminal. The bold and honest criticism of Scargill in the pages of the Weekly Worker has been invaluable in defending, articulating and advancing the SLP left. More to the point, the paper has educated a whole layer of working class partisans about the living reality of Scargillism and the terminal crisis of old Labourism.

 What of the ex-SLP soft left? Having walked away from the fight, they have constituted themselves under the rubric, Socialist Perspectives. This is a very heterogeneous grouping. In truth it is united not so much by what it stands for, rather by what it stands against - that is, Scargill on the one hand and unfortunately the CPGB on the other. It has no special sect theory, apart from a sectarian hostility to theory. Despite that within its ranks there can be counted members of the various competing factions of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, along with Leninist-Trotskyite supporters of Workers Action, state capitalist ex-SWPers and anti-Leninist localists. Formally this strange amalgam has two defining and very worthy aims. They want a mass workers’ party and so they say that party must be democratic and pluralistic. It was more than ironic therefore that the first vote taken by this new grouping was to impose a Scargill-style exclusion.

Scargill has ensured that a swathe of comrades have involuntarily been placed outside the ranks of the SLP. If Socialist Perspectives was established simply in opposition to Scargill as a personality cult then it would be a complete irrelevance. Communists would have little or no interest in a purely negative project. But if, as they insist, Socialist Perspectives has an orientation towards a mass democratic workers’ party, then those who have borne the brunt of Scargill’s witch hunt and who support that positive goal should be welcomed with open arms, not subjected to another anti-communist voiding.

Martin Wicks, the effective leader of Socialist Perspectives, seems to fear communists almost with the same intensity as Scargill. That is why he imposed a witch hunt and is cultivating his own policeman. Carolyn Sikorski can serve as Scargill’s Yagoda because of her knowledge and intimate contacts with the revolutionary left. In Socialist Perspectives that unenviable role is performed by Lee Rock - a man who previously defended communists with a degree of revolutionary honour. Sad to say, he ensured that any communist who attempted to discuss the formation of a new grouping at the Reading meeting was fingered and duly excluded (after the SLP left split there were two concurrent meetings in the same building).

Hopefully there will be a sharp struggle in Socialist Perspectives against anti-communism. Unless that is successful, the group will go from bad to worse. After all things develop from their origins and then move according to their own logic. The origins of Socialist Perspectives are anti-communist. As Scargill has conclusively proved, a mass democratic party of the working class can never be built on the logic of excluding communists. Bans and prescriptions can only but lead to anti-working class results, no matter who imposes them.

John Bridge

SLP membership No.1,203 – voided