Around the left
The latest issue of Socialist News (February/March), newspaper of the Socialist Labour Party, makes for disappointing reading. It clearly represents a step backwards from the previous edition, which in spite of itself had a little more edge to it - such as the start of a debate on China. A polemical quality had crept stealthily into the paper, even if it was semi-disguised and opaque.
This is not the case with the new issue of Socialist News. Its contents are mainly non-political and extremely anodyne. Instead of coming across as a paper which is genuinely trying to raise the level of debate and educate its readers, it looks more like the result of a desperate search to fill its pages. Hardly surprisingly then, Socialist News is characterised by vapid eclecticism and individual eccentricities.
The Jimmy Nolan article, ‘Flame of resistance’, was an unfortunate front page choice - and one SLP members will be saddled with for at least another two months. Its stirring report of the Liverpool dockers'continued determination to fight adds to the paper’s air of unreality, the impression that the SLP is an organisation seriously locked in the past. This is an inherent danger, of course, in any irregular publication. But even more so if the editorial team are afraid of politics and want to promote ‘official optimism’. As past experience tells us, this is only sowing the seeds for future disillusionment and cynicism.
A quick dig through the articles in Socialist News reveals their somnolent nature. Dot Kelly tells us how busy SLP members are in Bolton trying to revive the 80s. They are “planning a local campaign around the Greenham Common Women’s Millennium Pledge to work for peace” and “contacting organisations such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament”.
Most of the other articles are just as fossil-like. Ken Thornton decides to see how the other half lives and goes to meet some New Age travellers - “Yes, I did come away with a different point of view, and I’m pleased I did it.” Stewart Emms went to East Germany “on a journey of discovery” as part of a four-man Ucatt delegation. John Haynes uncritically interviews Sinn Fein executive member Jim Gibney. Royston Bull of the homophobic Economic and Philosophic Science Review castigates capitalism for having “no serious anti-drugs policy” and worries about how “all sorts of prejudice are encouraged and will flourish” as governments face the world economic slump. ‘Don Hoskins’ (EPSR pen name for one Adrian Greenman) writes a bland article on Afghanistan, denouncing the “weird and obsolete” ideologies of countries like Saudi Arabia. Nell Myers gives us her views on contraception (“To me, the pill was a miracle”), and so on. In other words, we have a collection of utterly unfocused, individualistic contributions, all written in glorious isolation.
The old-time spirit of Socialist News leads to incongruous juxtapositions. Thus, in one article Lila Patel, described as “secretary of the Korea Friendship and Solidarity Campaign” (she is also a member of the Stalin Society), catalogues the grisly crimes of US imperialism during the Korean War and praises the role of the ‘great leader’, Kim il Sung. In a separate and unnamed article above, we are informed that the “German Red Cross has called the situation in the north of Korea one of worst the world has seen since the Second World War, and recently estimated that around 10,000 children were dying of starvation every month”. Apparently “malnutrition is now affecting all of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s 2.6 million children”.
How ironic. For years Lila Patel and organisations like the KFSC have loudly insisted that North Korea provides us with a ‘model’ for socialism - if not of an actual paradise on earth. To doubt this claim was enough to be condemned as a “counterrevolution-ary” or “Trotskyist”. Yes, North Korea has recently being hit by natural disasters. But its juche(ie, so-called ‘self-reliance’) ideology, combined with the anti-democratic and obsessively secretive nature of the regime, has been the prime force behind the unfolding calamity in the DPRK. Bureaucratic socialism invites disaster, whether natural or non-natural.
The truth about the North Korean regime cannot be denied, even by Socialist News. If it was doing its job properly, Socialist News should of course be using this as an opportunity to encourage an open and honest debate about the nature of North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, etc.
The bureaucratic ‘unity’ that reigns in the SLP means that in the realm of theory the lowest common denominator becomes the ideal - the result is reflected in the pages of Socialist News.