Terminal decline

Simon Harvey of the SLP

Under the cloak of a supposedly overcrowded political schedule leading up to May 1999, our cowardly national executive committee has rubber-stamped Scargill’s regal cancellation of the Socialist Labour Party’s third annual congress. The party is now gripped in a crisis where stagnation could give way to terminal decline. Even Fiscite vice president Pat Sikorski now privately confesses that he treats the party as a holding operation while he gets on with his much more important work in RMT.

In the September letter to CSLP secretaries, national sections and affiliated trade unions (sic), which we reproduce below, general secretary Arthur Scargill notes “a number of letters” from party branches complaining about the four days’ notice received by CSLPs for submission of motions to congress (as reported in Weekly Worker September 17). With Scargillian bureaucratic sleight of hand, the general secretary points out that the NEC had already set the date for congress at its April meeting and that the “timetable for congress is clearly set out in the party’s constitution”. In other words, we’ve noted your complaints, but it’s all your own fault. Presumably branches should have worked out for themselves the timetable for submitting motions and called CSLP meetings without waiting for NEC instructions. Under the SLP’s supposedly sacrosanct constitution, the NEC has no authority to cancel congress - it may only call special congresses. However, in typical bureau-speak, the ‘legal’ basis of the NEC’s anti-democratic act will no doubt be justified retrospectively with the first act of the November 14 special congress postponing the third party congress until November 1999. In other words, the third and fourth congresses of the SLP will be held simultaneously.

Scargill is at pains to point out the unanimity of this decision: “I have been asked to emphasise that the decision to recommend the postponement of the 1998 annual congress in light of the current political situation was taken unanimously by all three national officers and by all members of the NEC present at the meeting.” It is, of course, nonsense to suggest that the NEC was unanimous in agreeing that the cancellation was necessary “in the light of the current political situation”. The handful of executive members at the Blackpool NEC of September 12 were well aware that the situation they were landed with was caused entirely by Scargill’s own bungling, and there were heated exchanges. The feeling was that the special congress solution was making the best of a bad job.

Of course, if the SLP were a vibrant, growing class-struggle party about to tackle the tasks of building a mass demonstration on May 1, and eager to contest local authority, Welsh assembly, Scottish parliament and European parliament elections, then the NEC would demand a full, democratic congress to put the party on a war footing “in light of the current political situation”.

In fact Scargill’s admission that 53 constituency parties have effectively disappeared shows an organisation in rapid decline.

Apart from sanctioning the ‘postponement’ of the annual conference, the delegates on November 14 will be expected to vote through two constitutional amendments slightly altering the basis on which membership is counted for the purposes of voting at congress. Why is it felt necessary to make these tinkering changes at a truncated congress? Perhaps Scargill is attempting a coup: the new clause VI, 18 (c) appears to remove voting rights from the Fiscite-dominated women’s and Brarite-dominated youth sections.

The NEC agenda seems to suggest that no vote will be allowed on the other items: the elections in Wales, Scotland and for Europe; and the May 1 1999 demonstration. 

It is worth noting that Scargill insists on calling the May 1 event to repeal the anti-trade union laws the “Reclaim Our Rights national demonstration”. To my knowledge, the organisation for this march and rally is under the rubric of the United Campaign to Repeal The Anti-Trade Union Laws. This campaign, the political baby of NEC members John Hendy and Bob Crow, comprises the SLP-initiated ROR as well as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’s Free Trade Unions Campaign. Obviously, the difference in opinion between Scargill on the one hand and Crow (busy with RMT work) and Hendy (currently overseas) on the other is yet to be resolved.

NEC nominations

The main reason Scargill decided to hold a special congress was the pretence of membership consultation. This necessitates NEC elections. A look through the nominations and an evaluation of the factions involved shows how bizarre the SLP has become.

Frank Cave, president, and Arthur Scargill, general secretary, are unopposed. And once again frothy Roy Bull of the homophobic - and selectively anti-Trotskyite - Economic and Philosophic Science Review is challenging Pat Sikorski of the Fourth International Supporters Caucus for the vice-presidency. Fat chance, Roy: comrade Pat has been nominated by the North West, Cheshire and Cumbria Miners’ Association with its automatic-majority block vote of 3,000. While ‘trade union affiliates’ may not vote for NEC members in the CSLP section, it appears they are perfectly free to dictate who the three officers will be.

In the trade union ‘section’, there are seven nominees for seven positions. And they are all - surprise, surprise - nominated by the same two affiliates - the NWCCMA and the Crook Ucatt branch. The seven who are already effectively elected are: Bob Crow, Paul Hardman, John Hendy, Paul Liversuch, Joe Marino, Linda Muir and Nell Myers. Former Liverpool dockers’ leader Jimmy Nolan has evidently withdrawn from the NEC.

The CSLP section is more interesting from the point of view of in-fighting. For the seven positions there are 22 nominations. In all, only 21 CSLPs made nominations for the NEC and national officer elections. Clearly the party has shrunk dramatically. Nevertheless, from these meagre pickings we can detect clear demarcations.

In effect there are four and a half factions, the largest group being the Scargill loyalists. This is hardly a faction:  more a grab-bag of die-hard fans and opportunists clinging to the Dear Leader’s coat tail. This group includes bits and pieces of other factions, showing that the only cement holding the current together is Scargill himself.

Then there is Fisc, the EPSR and also those around Harpal Brar of the Indian Workers Association (GB), the Communist Workers Association and the Stalin Society. The ‘half faction’ comprises those in the party torn between a residual attachment to Scargill and a hankering for a modicum of democracy within Arthur’s monocracy. Terry Dunn is the most active in this semi-faction. There are also the faintest glimmerings of what remains of the left, most of which was witch hunted out of the party or ignominiously resigned after the last congress. There is a residual left in Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Lewes, Brighton Kempton and Brighton Pavilion.

Those around Harpal Brar comprise the ultra-Stalinite wing of the party. While comrade Brar is not supporting the weirder-than-thou EPSR, they are supporting him, no doubt hoping to join forces to purge the Fiscite Trotskyites out of the party. However, while the Fisc-Scargill alliance is shaky, it is not finished yet. In a show of unity, the Scargill-loyal NWCCMA has nominated Fiscite Pat Sikorski for vice-president.

Confirming their continuing distance from Scargill, former ultra-loyalists Terry Dunn and Helen Drummond have been nominated by the Fisc-inclined CSLPs of Manchester (Central, Withington and Gorton), Poplar and Canning Town and West Ham. Fisc are also supporting Brian Heron, Imran Khan, Rachel Newton, Geoff Southern and Trevor Wongsam.

The EPSR-nominating CSLPs are Denton and Reddish, along with Hazel Grove and Walton. EPSR is supporting Harpal Brar, Giles Barralet-Shorter, Roy Bull, Adrian Greenman, Dave Roberts and Sohan Singh.

Harpal Brar is emerging as an opportunist manoeuvrer in the SLP to rival Fisc. Both court factions vie for the ear of King Arthur. His CSLP in Ealing Southall limiting its nominations to Brar himself. While drawing the support of the Stalinite EPSR, he is seen to be not openly joining in Roy Bull’s Trot-baiting in the interests of ‘party unity’. Nevertheless, in the national officer elections, Brar’s political base did nominate comrades Cave and Scargill without supporting Sikorski. A sign of the next battle to come, no doubt. While happily sitting alongside Pat Sikorski, Brian Heron, Arthur Scargill and Frank Cave - Brar, it should not be forgotten, believes that social democracy is pro-imperialism and Trotskyism is virtually indistinguishable from fascism.

The only other nominations are sectional, individual or regional. Reflecting the absence of any Scottish representation on the NEC, the two Scottish CSLPs making nominations limit themselves to proposing Scotland-based members.

Bridget Bell is contesting the CSLP section, and is replaced by Liz Screen as the women’s section nominee alongside Carolyn Sikorski. Both are unopposed. Harpal Brar’s son, Ranjeet, is also unopposed as the SLP youth section’s representative on the new NEC.

The SLP is now an odd ‘party’ indeed. Its only theoretically coherent components are two very small ultra-Stalinite groupings and one very small ultra-opportunist Trotskyite group. They have nothing in common apart from pinning their hopes of riding to power on the discredited and increasingly isolated personality of Arthur Scargill.