Brian Heron: from courtier to criminal

Scargill’s new purge

Defend the Appeal Four!

In an outrageous move, four leading dissidents have been hauled before a disciplinary panel under the Socialist Labour Party’s ‘complaints procedure’. Comrades Brian Heron, Carolyn Sikorski, Terry Dunn and Helen Drummond are to appear separately at a hearing in London on Saturday February 13, accused of breaking the SLP constitution.

In line with the December 12 national executive resolution, general secretary Arthur Scargill wrote to the ‘Gang of Four’, as they are known by NEC Stalinites, demanding that they withdraw their ‘Appeal for a special conference’, “cease their activities immediately, and undertake to abide by the party’s constitution”. They were given until December 29 to respond. Comrades Dunn and Drummond did not reply, while the responses of comrades Heron and Sikorski of the Fourth International Supporters Caucus (Fisc) were deemed ‘unsatisfactory’ by Scargill. The charges are not specific, only alleging that certain named clauses have been contravened.

Of course all four believed that their appeal was fully in accord with the constitution, which states that “A special congress may be convened ... upon request by 25% of the membership calculated for this purpose on the voting entitlement at the last party congress” (clause VI (2)).

Scargill, having succeeded in getting the November 1998 annual congress “postponed” (ie, cancelled) and replaced by a special congress where no membership motions were allowed, was determined that there should be no further gathering until the 1999 annual congress. He was furious that his former Fiscite courtiers, along with their allies, had dared to demand a more extensive and wide-ranging debate in order to “bring [the problems within the SLP] out into the light”.

He alleged that their appeal was unconstitutional on two grounds: firstly, there is no provision for a “special conference” - only a “special congress”, and using the wrong word is clearly a serious offence; secondly, he decreed that only constituency branches or affiliated trade unions, not individuals, can request a special congress (although nowhere is this spelt out in the constitution). Indeed his resolution at the December 12 NEC claimed that no “individual member” or “group of individuals” (ie, no-one) is permitted to circulate any document whatsoever within the party, which means that there is no way in practice of attaining the 25%. Again there is no such ban laid down in the constitution.

The original appeal, initiated by the four ‘accused’, carried 53 signatures, but has since been boosted by many more. The signatories now represent well over 25% of the individual membership, as calculated on “the voting entitlement at the last party congress”, where it was around 450. But the total actually includes the 3,775 affiliated members. One affiliate alone, the North West, Cheshire and Cumbria Miners Association, numbers 3,000. Therefore, even if every single CSLP spontaneously made a simultaneous “request” for a special congress, the benchmark could never be reached. The NWCCMA casts its shadow over the whole party.

So not only is Scargill intent on preventing by bureaucratic means any hint of membership self-assertion, but he has decided to take action against those who have dared issue the mildest and most tentative criticism. Fisc can hardly be said to have a record of open, public dissent. Yet one of the accusations levelled against the ‘Gang of Four’ is, incredibly, that they have “used the Weekly Worker” to air their views - a monstrous crime.

After Scargill issued his membership circular earlier this month, many comrades believed that his ‘even-handed’ reprimands against both the sponsors of the appeal and their sworn enemies of the Economic and Philosophic Science Review would signal an end to talk of disciplinary action. He ended the circular in an apparently conciliatory tone: “Hopefully these decisions will allow us all to get on with the real fight: against the capitalist system!”

But Scargill urgently needs to regain control of London, where comrade Heron is regional president and comrades Dunn and Drummond are influential committee members. They have stated that London will refuse to contest the European elections unless the “former editor” of the EPSR, Roy Bull, is bureaucratically removed from the vice-presidency by Scargill. Fisc is especially sore because Bull democratically defeated sitting Fiscite Pat Sikorski, who now holds no SLP position. Pat Sikorski’s ‘tactical’ decision not to sign the original ‘appeal’ does not seem to have done him any good. But at least he is not threatened with disciplinary action - for the moment.

This month has seen the SLP take another significant step towards the strangling of remaining inner-party life. Scargill’s dictatorship is almost complete - and with it any remote possibility that it could be transformed into a useful vehicle for pursuing the class struggle. The NEC has in effect banned all membership initiative - from circulating any document to publicly expressing a dissenting view. The warning to the EPSR not to “comment on the affairs of the SLP” and not to publish any article which “may lead members to conclude” that it is “attacking and discriminating against” homosexuals, far from representing a victory for progressives, should be seen as a new gagging assault on freedom and working class debate.

To cap it all we have the move against the Appeal Four. All of them have a record of giving at least tacit backing to the witch hunt against communists and democrats - the Fiscites, like the EPSR, were enthusiastic practioners. Nevertheless, there must be the widest possible campaign to defend them against these shameful charges. And they too have a responsibility. They must not wait passively to be expelled, but must actively and openly encourage a principled rebellion of the membership.

Remaining party activists must link their opposition to Scargill’s dictatorial and sectarian regime with a turn to the wider working class movement. They must keep intact party units, but back every move in favour of common political action - in particular through the Socialist Alliances and the United Socialists electoral campaign.

Simon Harvey