Harpal Brar

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.

Forthcoming events

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?