On party censorship

Simon Harvey of the SLP

Despite the guarantee of a 3,000 block vote at his disposal, the modus operandi of our general secretary continues to be one of near-paranoid secrecy. In response to the party’s ongoing troubles, our would-be labour dictator detects plots and places blame on all except himself.

The most recent example is an attempt to enforce censorship on party members. A new design for the SLP letterhead has emerged. Recent correspondence has been headed as normal with the party’s name, office bearers and address. Nothing unusual there. But a casual glance at the foot of each page reveals a new addition. There is a grim warning that the contents of the letter are not to be disclosed without the genera secretary’s permission and that “unauthorised publication” will be viewed as “detrimental to Socialist Labour”.

No doubt cautious after his experience of treachery by MI5 agents during the miner’s Great Strike, Scargill is now renowned for trusting only his closest collaborators. Of course, security is a consideration in the workers’ movement. Yet when such a consideration gets used to curb or ban normal democratic debate and discussion, it acts as a cancer on internal life. It becomes the duty of members to rebel, publish openly divergent views and attempt to pare back the bureaucratic intrigue, despite routine warnings about ‘privacy’ and ‘security’.

In today’s world of photocopiers, faxes, e-mail and computer-based text and photo manipulation, such banning of distribution of correspondence is next to useless. Its only intention can be to intimidate.

Speaking of censorship, poor old Terry Dunn has been airbrushed out of the list of those elected to this year’s NEC. To avoid having to explain his subsequent resignation, the formulation in the current Socialist News announcing our elected leadership curiously reads: “The SLP national executive committee, elected at the Congress, includes ...” Comrades Imran Khan and Roshan Dadoo have also been Tippexed out of the list. Readers will recall that they refused to take up their seats after the vote to abolish the black section. You just cannot cover these things up, comrade Scargill. When three members of the NEC resign over issues of political principle, surely the party and its supporters have a right to know what is going on.

London manifesto

The London regional committee of the SLP has produced a draft London manifesto in the lead-up to the May 7 local elections. This draft, along with an 18-page background document, is currently being distributed to members across London. Constituency parties as well as individuals are being invited to submit comments, amendments or alternatives by February 20. There will subsequently be a special regional conference solely to discuss a final draft on March 14.

This process gives party members the opportunity to debate exactly how Blairism should be challenged. It is unfortunate then that we have been given such poor material to work from.

Where to begin? I am at a loss in comprehending the thought processes behind the authors’ work. This manifesto, subtitled “for a fair and beautiful city”, makes the party’s general election statement seem a diatribe of leftist rhetoric.

The central refrain of the document is that “people want London to be a beautiful, safe and happy place”. No doubt true. The proposed vehicle for obtaining this, as envisaged by the Fiscite scribes dominating the capital’s regional committee, is a “democratic London City Council” which amazingly “puts people first”. Another theme concerns the referendum for a council and mayor which is to run concurrent to the local elections.

Perhaps my central criticism is the method. It is not an action plan for our class. Its anodyne language aside, the manifesto posits what a Socialist Labour GLC mark II would do for a passive electorate, not what we could collectively achieve through mass action. That would have required a militant class-struggle manifesto - a revolutionary minimum programme, in other words.

No doubt members of the regional committee feel they are presenting the electorate with a vision, without diverting the audience’s attention with bogey words like ‘socialism’ or ‘revolution’. I have no objection to comrades presenting their views in whatever way they feel best. However, in this case it seems as if the very views themselves are a world apart from what our party should be fighting for.

Nowhere does the document make a case for socialism. Indeed, the only mention of the word is in the party’s name. Instead, what is presented is a sub-reformist vision. At least Bennite social democracy had the ‘merit’ of illusions of transforming society into socialism through winning control of the bourgeois state. This draft manifesto sets it sights below that.

Yet illusions in the bourgeois state remain. The preamble to the document concludes: “A Socialist Labour LCC would put the needs of London people first. Employment, housing and pollution, policing and our services, all of them can be transformed by a council that puts the people first. That is Socialist Labour’s commitment to London” (emphasis added).

Wow. Such drivel could easily come from any of the three mainstream bourgeois parties. This hankering for bourgeois respectability seems to stem from a combination of old Labourism and new Scargillism: a mix of Brian Heron and Tony Goss.

The manifesto reads like an amateur, yet oh-so-earnest, Liberal Democrat treatise. Some examples. Point two of the draft tries to explain how the SLP will pay for its proposals. In part it states: “LCC and borough councils should be able to set up local businesses where needed to provide cheap essentials and services for London families. With this and other policies to support small businesses we will put the heart back into the high street and challenge the superstores. Any profits from LCC business would be ploughed back to the people”.

This proposal is a call for socialism in one borough. Or it could be a policy for reinventing the British shopkeeper and artificially high prices for the consumer. Either way, it is completely daft.

Another means of financing what are actually very modest proposals, according to the document, is to utilise VAT. I kid you not. The SLP’s policy on VAT is clear. It is to abolish it. Yet the draft manifesto states: “We would take some of VAT to pay for local needs. This Euro-tax must be abolished. Until it is, a percentage could go to local government. We need housing, jobs and services, not billions of pound of tax money to unelected Euro-quangos.” Fighting words, them.

This proposal exemplifies the thinking behind the document. It is not a programme of action for what the workers need. It is the programme of a slave class, ever so humble. VAT can hardly be abolished if we are aiming to include it in the funding proposals of the London City Council. And how is VAT a ‘Euro-tax’? Is it a ‘Euro-tax’ in the USA? They even have VAT in New Zealand.

The draft manifesto proposes a number of ‘workers’ quangos’ to ensure the LCC does a ‘good job’. On employment: “A special agency will be set up involving councillors, trade unionists and consumers to plan economic change ... We will put our city back to work.” On transport and the environment, a permanent greenie quango: “We will pay for a standing conference for all environment groups and agencies in London ... This conference will be another watchdog on the environmental progress of the LCC.” And on racism and discrimination an “equality commission … composed of representatives from all unfairly treated groups and elected councillors. The commission would speak out against discrimination wherever it found it. It would be another watchdog on the progress of the council.”

On the police, the document is ambiguous: “The people need to bring the police to order,” it states. This is to be done through a democratically elected police authority. It is unclear just what this means, but given the tenor of the rest of the document it seems a recipe for a reformed police force, not the abolition of standing bodies of armed men, separate from society. Placing an elected authority at the top of the pile of a culture of corrupt, violent and anti-worker coppers is just so much window dressing. In many US cities, police authorities are elected. District attorneys are elected throughout the USA. To paraphrase the leader of an elected authority, “It’s the system, stupid”.

This draft Socialist Labour London manifesto is a joke. It is more rightwing than current SLP policy. It does not put forward any of the central aims of existing policy such as a four-day week, 32-hour day, retirement at 55, abolition of VAT or abolition of tax below £10,000, let alone constitutional questions such as abolition of the monarchy and fighting for a republic.

Its only merit concerns the manner in which the question for a London-wide authority is being put forward. It is rigged with one question alone, which proposes a strong, New York-style mayor to head a council with relatively weak powers. Apart from this, Paddy Ashdown could have come up with something more promising.

Democratic Platform

I have recently been sent a copy of a selection of papers from the January 10 Democratic Platform conference which was held in Reading. A precursor to a new Democratic Platform bulletin, due out in March, it is refreshing to see that the struggle to organise democrats and revolutionaries in the SLP still continues. I look forward to reading the next issue.