End of the road?
In ditching his old allies in favour of an alliance of ultra-Stalinites and homophobes, Arthur Scargill has driven another nail into the SLP’s coffin
Last weekend’s special congress of the Socialist Labour Party at the Mechanics’ Institute, Manchester marked a new stage in degeneration. Having already driven out just about every left and democratic opponent, Arthur Scargill has now succeeded in marginalising every element with even a trace of critical independence. He has turned on his former courtiers of the Fourth International Supporters Caucus (Fisc), replacing them with a pot pourri of sycophants, misfits and sociopaths.
In an amazing development, sitting Fiscite vice-president Pat Sikorski was ousted by Royston Bull, editor of the rabid homophobic rag, the Economic and Philosophic Science Review. The EPSR is a cut-and-paste photocopied A4 sheet, and its supporters are one of the remaining (and wackiest) fragments of the Healyite Workers Revolutionary Party, which shattered in the 1980s. The EPSR was previously known as the International Leninist Workers Party, which eventually dropped its previous ultra-dogmatic Trotskyism in favour of a peculiar form of extreme Stalinism. Bull received 541 votes, as opposed to 348 for Sikorski, a result which almost led to fisticuffs outside the hall after the congress.
Bull’s total was boosted by the block votes of at least one of the new trade union affiliates (of which there are now four with, it is claimed, 3,775 members), but the largest of these, the phantom North West, Cheshire and Cumbria Miners Association, controlled directly by Scargill through Paul Hardman, pointedly abstained, despite having nominated comrade Sikorski. Its 3,000 votes is almost three times the total of the remaining union affiliated branches and all the individual members’ votes put together.
However, the constituency section results for the national executive elections showed that Bull would almost certainly have won without the affiliates’ block votes. Two successful EPSR candidates, Dave Roberts and Sohan Singh, won 230 and 224 votes respectively. This was more than twice as many (111) as the best placed Fiscite, Brian Heron, the London regional president, received from constituency delegates.
These figures give an indication of the true state of the SLP membership. Around 100 delegates (one per functioning constituency branch) cast votes representing around 400-450 paid-up members. In his opening remarks, president Frank Cave claimed the party had 2,265 members “in 345 constituencies” in August 1998 - up from 2,188 in 1997. But, he added significantly, “Our problem is getting the members to pay their contributions.” In an internal letter to comrade Sikorski, Scargill put the paid-up figure at just over 900. Clearly even this is greatly exaggerated, as the attendance at Manchester demonstrated.
But in public Scargill insists on counting all those who have ever applied to join as current members, irrespective of whether they have paid a penny in dues or attended a single party event. He justified this blatant falsification in the Sikorski letter by claiming it was “common practice” among all political parties. Assuming that comrade Cave’s figures are not totally fabricated, we can see that 77 people applied for membership in the year up to August. But we know that at least several hundred left the party. Only a few bothered to formally resign - most simply walked away.
It is in these conditions of catastrophic membership loss that Scargill’s break with Fisc has occurred. Whereas at first he looked to Brian Heron, Pat Sikorski and Carolyn Sikorski to provide him with at least a modicum of theoretical cover, over the recent period he has increasingly turned to the likes of Bull and Harpal Brar. Brar is editor of the Indian Workers Association’s bi-monthly paper, Lalkar, and a leading light in the Stalin Society and the Communist Workers Association. He received the second highest total of votes (272) in the constituency section of the NEC elections. Carolyn Sikorski is the only remaining Fiscite on the NEC - she was returned unopposed by the women’s section.
The final break was provoked by the strong disagreement over the cancellation of the party’s 3rd Congress. Scargill, distracted by the court action against him in his capacity as trustee of two miners’ charities, neglected to circulate the membership in sufficient time for motions and amendments to be agreed and published according to the constitution. This meant that a full congress could not be held as intended on November 14-15.
At the September 12 NEC meeting several options were debated. Scargill, who clearly believes that manifestations of membership democracy should be kept to the absolute minimum, proposed that the constitution be amended in order to reduce the frequency of congresses to once every three years. This was comfortably defeated. Carolyn Sikorski then moved that a full congress be held as soon as practicable. After all manner of technical reasons were put forward in opposition to such a basic democratic proposal, it too was defeated. The deeply divided NEC was then left with no option but to “unanimously” agree to a special one-day congress, where no membership motions would be discussed, in order to elect a new executive. (In view of Scargill’s increasing inability to secure an automatic majority on every issue, it became imperative for him to allow this particular aspect of membership democracy to proceed.)
Pat Sikorski issued a set of proposals designed to clip king Arthur’s wings. In parallel Fisc and its allies attempted a minor, if scrupulously constitutional, rebellion. Terry Dunn, Caroline Sikorski, Brian Heron and Helen Drummond circulated a letter among their own close contacts calling for a two-day, fully democratic special congress - a provision which requires 25% membership support. But Fisc did not have access to the names and addresses of sufficient Constituency SLP secretaries. In an unbelievably naive move, it therefore sent its ‘initial appeal’, signed by 53 comrades, including former Scargill allies Tony and Anne Goss, and Pat Sikorski’s contacts on the RMT national executive, Bobby Law and Mick Atherton, to the general secretary himself, requesting he either circulate the appeal or provide them with the names and addresses.
Scargill reacted predictably. He wrote to each and every one of the 53 signatories, informing them that their action was factional, undemocratic and against the constitution. In his usual intimidatory style, he demanded an explanation and an undertaking not to engage in further ‘factional’ activity.
His own factional response was ruthless. He ensured that Pat Sikorski would be defeated by stitching up the election for vice-president with the aid of the Sheffield Ucatt union block vote. The fact that it was Roy Bullwho would be the beneficiary was a secondary question. But the constituency section was not quite as simple. Scargill had been forced to accept that the union affiliates could not be employed to elect constituency representatives by the furore that erupted at the December 1997 2nd Congress when he suddenly produced the NWCCMA 3,000 block vote.
In order to be certain of ousting Fisc he would need to mobilise not only his personal followers, ex-NUM members and supporters of Harpal Brar; he would also need to bring more firmly under his wing the sycophants from the EPSR, from whom he had previously kept a certain distance. And so the ‘Campaign to support Scargill and the national leadership of the Socialist Labour Party’ suddenly materialised at the congress. Whereas in 1997 Scargill ensured there was an NEC ‘recommended’ list - backed up by the NWCCMA sledgehammer - this year the NEC majority recommendations would almost certainly not be to his liking.
So in 1998 we had Scargill’s own personal ‘recommended’ list: Bridget Bell, Brian Gibson, Darren Hickory and Jim McDaid - as well as Harpal Brar and the two EPSRers. Evidently the stitch-up was only finalised at the last moment, as three other EPSR supporters - Giles Barralet-Shorter, Adrian Greenman and Bull himself - did not even withdraw their names as candidates to the NEC. Clearly Bull was completely confident of winning the vice-presidency, as he allowed two of his comrades to be listed on the pro-Scargill slate instead of himself.
The ‘Campaign to support Scargill’ issued the following statement:
“Our party has grown significantly since it was launched in 1996, and now has an individual and affiliated membership of over 6,000, with eight regions and 334 Constituency SLPs.
“Despite our success, the party’s growing influence in the trade union movement and in single-issue campaigns, there are some - including members of the NEC - who constantly criticise the SLP leadership, in particular Arthur Scargill, a man who has done more than anyone to build our party.
“If you support Scargill and the national leadership of Socialist Labour, we urge you to vote for seven candidates standing for the CSLP section on the NEC. We believe these seven candidates represent a geographical and political balance and above all are comrades who will in the main support the policies of our party, Scargill and the SLP leadership, particularly in the important political campaigns which lie ahead.”
But what of the ‘opposition’? Sadly Fisc and its allies - primarily Terry Dunn and Imran Khan - issued no statement of their own. Their idea of a campaign is to secretly agree a course of action and refuse to tell the membership even what the issues are. Their call for a two-day special congress must be one of the best-kept secrets ever - even though it needed 25% membership support. They even excluded people not to their factional liking from the planning meetings for their ‘campaign’.
You would have thought that last Saturday’s congress provided an ideal occasion to involve the most active elements in the party in calling for membership democracy. But when comrade Cave put the proposal for the ‘postponement’ of the 1998 full congress until November 1999 to a card vote, not one delegate demanded to speak. The three independent Socialist Democracy NEC candidates also remained firmly in their seats. The proposal was carried with a 98% vote.
The rebellion has been crushed. Scargill is in full control everywhere except London, where Fisc and its allies are still at the helm. Yet surely the incorporation of the EPSR onto the leadership will mean the beginning of the end for Scargill’s project. Brian Heron and Pat Sikorski provided him with a ‘common sense’ front. Even Harpal Brar is a politician who at least knows how to operate. But a gang of ranting homophobes?
What will happen if, for example, the London Underground disputes take off in a big way? The Evening Standard is already engaging in low-level red-baiting in view of the fact that SLP comrades like Sikorski, Bob Crow, Bobby Law and Mick Atherton are in the forefront of the RMT union. Such a campaign in the press could have played into Scargill’s hands, attracting a new layer of militants into his party. But if the Standard should make known the contents of the Economic and Philosophic Science Review, and the prominence of its supporters in the SLP, that would surely more than wipe out in the minds of left activists any positive image portrayed of a fighting, intransigent, Scargillite organisation. Certainly Sikorski, Crow, Law and Atherton will not want their RMT campaigns damaged by being associated with such a tarnished image.
Far from being able to recruit, the SLP looks set to lose another big layer of members. A whole swathe of delegates were talking of resigning last Saturday evening in Manchester.