Harpal Brar and entryism
Simon Harvey of the SLP
I have recently been doing some research into the writings of our newly elected national executive member, Harpal Brar. I came across the July/August 1996 edition of Lalkar, the journal of the Indian Workers Association (GB), edited by none other than comrade Brar himself, who is also a member of the ultra-Stalinite Association of Communist Workers. His motion to the December congress to abolish the SLP black section received the controversial backing of the mysterious North West, Cheshire and Cumbria Miners’ Association and their decisive 3,000 votes. The result provoked a deep crisis at the top of the party.
Now that comrade Brar has not only joined our ranks, but also our leadership, it is instructive to review his clear-cut and unambiguous thoughts on the formation of the Socialist Labour Party. Eighteen months ago, the comrade quite correctly pointed out that the SLP’s formation was the “most important development in the British working class movement for decades”, and congratulated the SLP for “not only denounc[ing] New Labour as a capitalist party, but also, unlike the cowardly Trotskyite-revisionist fraternity, is prepared to challenge Labour during elections”. Quite right.
However, despite welcoming the SLP in his 1996 article, comrade Brar condemns its shortcomings, and those of Scargill in particular, for failing to break from reformism and Labourism. Firstly, quoting from Scargill’s 1995 ‘Future strategy for the left’ document, he (correctly) accuses Scargill of “peddl[ing] the illusion that the Labour Party was formed for the ‘eradication of capitalism’ ... and that only now ... has it become impossible to fight for socialism within the Labour Party”. He says that Scargill believes, along “with the Trotskyist and revisionist ‘left’, that the Labour Party was a mass party of the British working class with the potential to unify the proletariat in its struggle for social emancipation”.
Comrade Brar’s congratulations on the SLP’s formation, while seemingly heartfelt, are balanced by a stern rebuke: “It is a pity that, despite his direct and personal experience of Labour/TUC treachery during the coal strike of 1984-85, it took Scargill 10 years before he tore up his membership card - for the betrayal of the miners was of far greater significance than the removal of clause four.” The comrade adds:
“However, it is not enough to break with Labour organisationally; one must also break with it ideologically. For comrade Scargill to break with Labour and yet maintain illusions in social democracy - as is only too evident from his ‘Future strategy’ - is to entertain illusions which cannot but do irreparable damage to the cause of the working class.”
This strident criticism of the SLP and its leader is further reinforced by comrade Brar’s analysis of the party’s “failure to understand the imperialist character of British capitalism and ... the subsequent split in the working class”. He claims that unless the SLP focuses on this problem, “it will drift towards labour aristocratic opportunism and probable annihilation”. The comrade rhetorically asks:
“Will the SLP give up its baggage of ‘left’ social-democratic reformism?”
After explicitly identifying the SLP’s programme as ‘left’ social democratic reformism, comrade Brar goes on to dub the proponents of this reactionary ideology as, quoting from Lenin, “agents of the bourgeoisie in the working class movement”.
So how did comrade Brar at that time suggest that pro-Stalin communists such as himself should respond to the SLP? Because of its organisational split from Labour, its formal call for ‘socialism’ and a number of other issues, he called for critical support - but of what sort?
“Communists cannot join the SLP, for clause II, paras 4 and 5 of the SLP’s constitution ban this course of action,” wrote Lalkar’s editor, now NEC member. In his attempt to explain this anti-communist section of the constitution, comrade Brar said: “We have been told by well-meaning, if politically naive, people that Scargill has done this because he has a well-founded fear of sectarian Trotskyite outfits, who are alone the target of the constitutional provision. But this cannot be the real reason. First, because an obscure Trotskyist group known as the Fourth International Supporters Caucus has its members on the executive committee of the SLP ... Secondly, some other Trotskyist outfits, such as the ... so-called ‘CPGB’ have flocked into the SLP ... It is only a question of time before they find themselves expelled.” He goes on:
“Communists cannot adopt this dishonest, entryist position, but must continue to give the SLP critical support from outside, while redoubling their efforts to building a genuine Marxist-Leninist party” (emphasis added).
In concluding, comrade Brar says:
“It is the job of communists to point out the crying contradictions in the SLP’s assertion that it is based on Marxist philosophy and its attempts in practice to shun that theory.”
Well, it all speaks for itself really.
What has changed in the SLP, Harpal? Why are you now prepared to adopt “dishonest entryist” tactics, where once you shunned them? Have not the politics of the SLP further crystallised into “left’ social-democratic reformism”? Are not the political foundations still there for “irreparable damage to the cause of the working class” and the SLP’s “probable annihilation”? And what are you doing about Fisc and the social democratic “agents of the bourgeoisie” which you think exist on the same national executive committee as yourself? If you stay silent now, you will undoubtedly be called to account in the future.
Reclaim our rights
The SLP leadership is banking on the success of the ‘Reclaim our rights - repeal the anti-trade union laws’ conference on March 28. After its pyrrhic victory at the December congress there has been a flurry of resignations, combined with decline in the activity of the membership from what was extremely passive to start with.
It goes without saying that the anti-trade union laws need to be smashed. The cowardice of the trade union bureaucrats is a cancer that must be overcome through workers taking direct and necessarily illegal action to smash the industrial relations legislation. In the shadow of the courageous Liverpool dockers’ struggle, that fight seems even more urgent, and at the same time remote.
Many on the left held that workers would ‘inevitably’ take up struggles after Blair’s victory. They would spontaneously move into action either for themselves or in solidarity with others such as the dockers. History proves yet again that it is up to us to organise that fightback. To the extent that ‘Reclaim our rights’ can assist in achieving this aim, it must be supported. Democrats in the SLP want real debate and real organisation to come from it. That means rank and file control and a fighting programme for SLPers in the RMT, NUM, TGWU, Ucatt, etc, not as a show for the bureaucratic leadership, but so that it can become part of a real class fightback.
Unfortunately comrade Scargill and his hangers-on seem determined to organise the ‘conference’ along the lines of a rally.
Comrades need to get their union branches, community and other organisations to sponsor this event. The more militant activists attend as delegates - whether in the SLP or not - the greater will be the possibility to turn another ‘Scargill rally’ into a real conference or, failing that, a working fringe meeting that can begin to build a militant rank and file organisation of SLP [corrupt text was printed here] movement of trade union militants.
In an encouraging move towards clarification of programmatic perspectives amongst revolutionaries and democrats in the party, the SLP Republicans and the Marxist Bulletin will be debating ‘republicanism and the national question’ on Wednesday March 4, 8pm at the Princess Louise pub, 208 High Holborn, London.
Not all members have received their 1998 membership cards yet, and many do not see members’ bulletins, or even the party paper. So for comrades’ information, other events include a weekend school for trade unionists, organised by the SLP industrial committee on February 20-22 in the Low Hall in Scalby (near Scarborough). There will be a special London regional conference on March 14, 11.30am - 2.00pm, in Conway Hall (one delegate per 10 members or under for each CSLP) to discuss the London manifesto for the local elections which I reviewed last week.
Love is in the air
For anyone who doubts that Scargill still carries a certain kudos as a political figure, this week’s coverage of his daughter’s intention to marry should put them right. For one, The Guardian last Saturday February 7 devoted almost half its front page to the impending nuptials. Newsworthy? Only in the “dark irony” - in the words of former SLPer Brenda Nixon - of Margaret Scargill being betrothed to a former boss of the Grimethorpe colliery in south Yorkshire. I remember a few years ago a story of a romance between comrade Scargill’s daughter and a visiting Australian rugby league player - none other than the son of the Australian Miners’ Federation president, John Maitland. The match with the colonial was not approved of. But a former mining boss ... Not so much gaining a son. More like losing a daughter, eh, Arthur?