SPEW leaders Dave Nellist (left), Hannah Sell and Peter Taaffe: only Nellist stands up to Scargill

SLP wreckers fail in Coventry

The degeneration of Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party is so far gone that on occasions it now performs the role of anti-working class wrecker.

A case in point is its antics in Coventry in the run-up to this month’s local elections. Dave Nellist, former Labour MP for Coventry South East, is today a councillor for St Michael’s ward in his old constituency. Hoping to build on comrade Nellist’s personal following and reputation, his district of the Socialist Party in England and Wales stood six candidates, including in St Michael’s ward, where SPEW was trying for a second councillor on May 6.

Comrade Karen McKay narrowly won the seat from New Labour with 1,356 votes (44.2%). But not before a spoiling intervention by the SLP. The Socialist reports: “At the last moment, the rump Socialist Labour Party decided to stand in St Michael’s in a blatant attempt to split our vote and ensure that a socialist did not win the seat” (May 14). This appears to be completely accurate.

Since its formation the SLP, driven by Scargill’s overwhelmingly egoistic ambition to head the workers’ movement as its labour dictator, has refused point blank to even discuss electoral alliances. It is true that many informal arrangements have been arrived at. Local branches have seen the obvious logic in not dividing the left vote. But in Scargill’s blinkered mind the rest of the left is irrelevant. He absurdly claims that his husk is Britain’s “fourth biggest party”.

In fact the SLP is continuing to shrink. It is now down to around 200 members - just one tenth of its high point in 1996-7. As a result, the most grotesque ultra-Stalinites are in control in key areas: women’s section, youth section, London region, etc. They have encouraged Scargill to take his sectarianism to extremes: if Socialist Labour is going to sink into oblivion, then such elements will, it seems, do their damnedest to sabotage any sign of left advance elsewhere.

Coventry SLP has just four activists - NEC member Sohan (Paul) Singh, Dave Ayrton, Tim Logan and Ann Perkins. Comrades Singh and Ayrton were prominent supporters of Royston Bull’s homophobic Economic and Philosophic Science Review, while comrade Logan is an Irish republican, who retains his membership only because of what he sees as the SLP’s uncritical support for Sinn Féin. Comrade Perkins is an animal rights campaigner. With the EPSR to the fore, this strange quartet decided to contest three council seats. It just so happened that SPEW had already targeted every one of them.

Like the Communist Party of Great Britain, SPEW is prevented from contesting any elections under its own name by the undemocratic ban imposed by the registrar of political parties. It therefore adopted the electoral title, ‘Socialist Alternative’. In Coventry it added the suffix, ‘(Nellist)’- clearly demonstrating not only the influence of one former MP, but the growing distance of Nellist and his comrades from the disintegrating “small mass party” perspective of Peter Taaffe. Having lost Scotland to the petty nationalism of the Scottish Socialist Party, Liverpool to the localist Merseyside Socialists, we now hear that SPEW has also suffered a split in London, with a section defecting to the soft-Trotskyite Socialist Democracy Group.

The Nellistites contested in six out of Coventry’s 18 wards. The Defend Coventry Council Housing Campaign, run by a handful of left groups and individuals, including several former SLP members, stood elsewhere after an agreement with SPEW. A third of the wards had no left candidate. In St Michael’s SPEW approached both the SLP and the Green Party, asking them to stand down. The Greens agreed, but the SLP candidate, comrade Ayrton, dismissed this approach contemptuously: “We want a piece of your action,” he replied. Fortunately Ayrton’s 72 votes were not enough to prevent comrade McKay’s victory.

Comrade Perkins won 93 votes in Foleshill, as against 104 for the Nellistite candidate, while comrade Logan could only manage 28 in Upper Stoke (71 for ‘Nellist’). These two wards are outside Coventry South East and, as can be seen, real support for the Nellistites was restricted to their leader’s former constituency. For example, in Binley and Willenhall, Lindsay Currie gained almost 20% of the return (567 votes). It was only here and in St Michael’s where the results were above average for a left candidate.

The EPSR, previously known as the International Leninist Workers Party, has an unusual provenance. One of the most bizarre fragments of the Workers Revolutionary Party, which imploded in the 1980s, it eventually dumped Trotskyite dogmatism in favour of a peculiar form of ultra-Stalinism.

Bull’s cut-and-paste weekly is famed for its breathless, ranting style, and its refusal to champion any democratic issues, calling instead for workers to forget about “single-issue campaigns” in the name of an abstract ‘socialism’ (as if revolution could be conjured up out of thin air, without challenging each and every violation of democracy). In the case of gay rights this refusal also reflects the EPSR’s backward prejudices.

For example, the EPSR has described “paedophilia, pederasty and lesbianism” as “emotional or sexual malfunctions”. Regarding “malfunctioning sexual orientation”, it reassuringly concluded that:

“If society eventually establishes that heterosexual procreation remains the basic evolutionary pattern for the species, then cleverly rationalised deviations from this by emotionally charged male or female homosexuals in a position to strongly influence the education of minors is clearly going to remain a potential problem, possibly requiring continued differentiation (or discrimination) within childcare and the teaching professions” (February 18 1997).

After comrade Bull was elected vice-president in November 1998 with Scargill’s active connivance, the SLP’s dictator felt that such tirades were ill advised. Scargill ordered his second-in-command to sever his connections with the EPSR. Bull refused. He was promptly put on trial for that heinous crime, “comment on the affairs of the SLP”. Bull was ‘lapsed’ from membership for non-payment of dues earlier this year.

After the trial Bull dropped his previous grovelling before Scargill. He unleashed instead a stream of EPSR invective. The SLP general secretary wasaccused of “stifling censorship”, condemned for his “disgraceful lies” and “meaningless gibberish” and, most cutting of all, “imbecility” (EPSR February 23 1999). But this about-turn has not stopped Royston’s former lieutenants carrying on as if nothing has happened.

Singh and Ayrton are now seen selling not the EPSR, not the SLP’s official paper, Socialist News, but the journal of the Indian Workers Association, Lalkar, whose editor and chief contributor is SLP NEC member Harpal Brar.

Comrade Brar’s devotion to JV Stalin, the man and his deeds, is even greater than comrade Bull’s admiration of the Berlin Wall and the KGB. For example, Brar told the CPGB’s Communist University in 1998: “I regard Stalin as a great Leninist ... he had a genius for putting into effect the precepts of Marxism-Leninism ... Stalin’s contribution ... was to hold the Party together by routing all the fractious elements” (Weekly Worker November 12 1998). Chilling stuff.

After Bull’s demise Scargill turned to comrade Brar’s tiny faction, based not only on the Indian Workers Association, but a secretive group called the Association of Communist Workers. Five of the 10 candidates on the SLP’s London slate for the June 10 European Union elections are Brarites (including Harpal himself and daughter Joti). However, because the slate is headed by Scargill himself, the left bloc that had come together to contest the EU elections crumbled. The Socialist Alliance - consisting of SPEW, SWP, Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, Socialist Outlook, Independent Labour Network and CPGB - considered itself to be no longer “viable” compared to Scargill! All apart from the CPGB pulled out in both London and the North West of England regions.

Only in the West Midlands is the Socialist Alliance to stand. Comrade Nellist himself heads the list, which also contains three of his SPEW comrades, two SWPers, one AWL member and a leader of the Walsall-based Democratic Labour Party. Comrade Nellist, like Scargill, considers himself to be perfectly viable.

The Weekly Worker urges critical support for the Socialist Alliance slate in the West Midlands. However, in London and the North West, since the rest of the left has deserted the field, working class partisans have a choice between, on the one hand, a bunch of sectarian Stalinites and Scargillites, and, on the other, the candidates of the CPGB.

Unable to contest under our own name, we are fighting as the ‘Weekly Worker’ list. Although we are standing alone, our manifesto is based on the one agreed by ourselves, Hackney SWP, Hackney SLP and a Turkish community group (and supported by SPEW) in the January 1999 North Defoe council by-election.

Those who want to oppose not only the warmongering of bomber Blair, but the disastrous national socialism of the red-brown SLP will vote ‘Weekly Worker’ on June 10.

Jim Blackstock