Scargill ‘loyalist’ resigns from NEC

Simon Harvey of the SLP

In a move which is bound to further lower morale in the SLP, Terry Dunn has resigned from the party’s national executive committee. This latest development in the SLP’s crisis at the top creates more opportunities for those below. Up until now, comrade Dunn has been part of the inner circle of Scargill loyalists. Discussion of comrade Dunn’s resignation - and Arthur Scargill’s response - dominated the agenda at last weekend’s NEC meeting, the first held since congress.

The ham-fisted utilisation of the previously unknown 3,000 block vote at congress has caused outrage and shock among almost all sections of the party. Comrade Dunn’s resignation, handed in just days after congress, was a protest at the way the block vote was used.

Fallout from the December congress continues. While sections of the SLP left cravenly slinked out, ‘morally’ outraged at the internal regime, the real shock waves are resounding at the very heart of Scargill’s creation. The desperate rescue of Scargill’s shaky alliance with the Fourth International Supporter’s Caucus produced the first casualties at congress itself when Roshan Dadoo and Imran Khan refused to accept their positions on the NEC. Now a comrade from a solid NUMist background has fallen by the wayside, openly expressing his division with the founder-leader. And, judging from the report I received of the NEC meeting, comrade Dunn may not be the last.

This resignation means that nine NEC members have left their posts since the party was founded. On average, that is one resignation every two months - a damning indictment on the internal regime.

Yet, to judge from the latest official statements emanating from the party, everything is fine and dandy. Both in the current issue of Socialist News and in Scargill’s latest missive to the membership, the SLP is going from strength to strength.

In a letter to all members dated January 12 1998, our general secretary concludes thus: “Finally, you will be pleased to know that not only is membership of the party already ahead of the projections made at the time of its launch in May 1996, but has increased substantially since the 1997 congress in December.” Such bravado in the face of the continuing blows to the SLP’s remaining prestige requires breathtaking arrogance and not a little stupidity.

The claim of growth in membership is based on ‘official’ reality. An article in the current Socialist News (February/March 1998) by Robert Morris concerns the affiliation of his Ucatt branch to Socialist Labour in January 1998. However, reports I am receiving from across Britain point to a tendency towards the real as opposed to fictitious or paper membership haemorrhaging. In the North West, Wales and the south west, whole branches have folded since congress. I have had reports of CSLPs in London losing half their membership. Where people have stayed on, party life barely has a pulse.

No doubt this is uneven. However, that there is a crisis is irrefutable. Comrade Dunn’s resignation is the tip of the iceberg. Yet, what is Scargill’s reaction? Adopting the attitude he struck up in the weeks before the end of the miners’ Great Strike of 1984-85, he pretends he sees the opposite. In the closing moments of the strike, Scargill was claiming the stockpiles of coal were all but gone. After the miners were defeated and forced back to work, Arthur claimed victory - a claim he maintains to this day.

With Scargill’s record of refusing to acknowledge a setback even when it stares him in the face, the SLP is in real danger of becoming a sectarian rump of sycophants and court jesters.

Scargill displays this sectarianism in Socialist News when he “looks forward to the local elections on May 1 [sic]”. Despite being a week early, his assertion that “Socialist Labour offers the only alternative” flies in the face of reality. Established Socialist Party councillors will be recontesting their seats and on top of this, Socialist Alliances look set to contest local elections up and down the country. Reports suggest that candidates from rebel SLP branches will cooperate with other forces to present a united socialist platform to the electorate.

In his article comrade Scargill says: “The capitalist state knows (I sometimes think better than we do ourselves) that the working class united can never be defeated.” Yet by refusing to stand in elections with other, already existing socialist forces in the wider movement, the SLP looks set to add to our division by pig-headedly claiming to be the “only alternative”.

The awkward task of reporting on the party’s 2nd congress is left to SLP president Frank Cave. The article takes up less than half a page. Even so, comrade Cave’s report at least shows that there was division, and he rightly points out that this political schism took the form of wrangles around the constitution.

He writes: “Our ‘unitary’ constitution was reaffirmed [sic] at our December congress in an atmosphere I would describe as fairly lively. That’s no complaint.” That the comrade himself puts quote marks around ‘unitary’ serves to emphasise the flimsy basis of the claim. Despite his contention that “lively debate” is welcome around the constitution, comrade Cave contradictorily states that the current minority should leave the party. He argues: “What was made clear at our congress was that people who believe in what’s called ‘federalism’ and think the SLP should be an umbrella for other political groups cannot - in fairness - be members of the party.”

The point is that the SLP is already an “umbrella” for the Fourth International Supporters Caucus, the Stalin Society, the Indian Workers Association, the Economic and Philosophic Science Review, the North West, Cheshire and Cumbria Miners Association and a handful of other union organisations.

Comrade Cave puts a brave face on the abolition of the black section at congress. Hiding behind the colour of the skin of the amendment’s mover, he reports: “Comrades from the black community argued that the existence of black sections is incompatible with the SLP’s constitution ... in that their existence effectively perpetuates discrimination.” The party’s president then notes that “following a heated debate, the congress accepted” the motion to abolish black sections.

Nowhere does the report mention the controversy over the block vote. Nowhere does it mention that a substantial majority of delegates from CSLPs voted against the abolition of black sections. Nowhere does comrade Cave’s report note that it was effectively three men with 3,000 votes who decided all.

The latest round of bureaucratic intrigue complete with resignations and rebellions by former Scargill loyalists all point to an organisation in deep trouble. In order to understand the character of the organisation, we must go deeper than transferring old categories onto this new phenomenon. Clearly, what we have is - unique - a Scargillite party.


In order to understand the nature of this new creature, it is useful to look back at past attempts of Scargill-type figures to mould working class organisations in their own image. One such figure was Ferdinand Lassalle, who founded the General German Workers Association in 1863. The GGWA was a forerunner of the Social Democratic Party. Lassalle was at the receiving end of polemic from Marx, due both to his contempt for democracy and his ‘state’ socialism - shades of Scargill’s own politics.

In the fourth volume of his interesting series, Karl Marx’s theory of revolution, Hal Draper makes some general observations about Lassalle. Draper says he “was a very easy man to dislike as well as to adulate. He tended to polarise people who knew him: in this, his flamboyant and strident personality was both a strength and a weakness” (p242). He goes on to note that to his Berlin followers at the time “he was the enlightened Bonaparte; the very constitution of the GGWA made it a personal dictatorship” (p261).

The new movement in Germany at the time, coming out of the period of reaction following the defeat of the European revolutions of 1848, looked to Lassalle as leader. This testified to the workers’ lack of class conscious self-confidence. Lassalle’s ability “to put his imprint on the new movement meant that it was cradled in the swaddling clothes of a bureaucratic dictatorship, nurtured on state-cultist politics, and educated in the spirit of the cult of the individual leader ... The Lassallean pre-emption of the burgeoning movement did not mean the gift of independent organisation from a shining knight but rather the injection of a toxin.” (p263).

Many on the left are dismissing the SLP out of hand. Comrades may well be right. The SLP could be finished, dead in the water. However, winning the mass of our class from Labourite politics remains the major strategic task for revolutionaries in Britain. While the SLP may turn out to be just another sorry example of what ‘history’ (or rather our class) leaves behind, its significance as the first split from Labour for decades, with a prominent workers’ leader at the helm, ought not to be overlooked.

Although I am not trying to make direct parallels, the observations about Lassalle have an eerie ring of familiarity. At present, Scargill does not find himself in front of a burgeoning mass movement. But it is a sobering thought that throughout our class’s history, would-be, as well as successful, labour-dictators have managed to lead us into disaster. Trying to understand the reality, instead of wishfully claiming workers do not join bureaucratic organisations, is the real service the left can salvage from the SLP experience.

Even if Scargill’s current project has flopped - and that is not yet a certainty by any means - our history shows that similar, and more dangerous, autocrats will try to emerge to (mis)lead our movement. For that reason alone, it is worthwhile learning the lessons now.