We have received a postcard polemic (literally - it is written on a postcard) from a Socialist Party member chiding Pat Strong, the dissident SPer who writes for the Weekly Worker. Our closet critic tells us that he writes "in a personal capacity" and therefore, oddly, does not wish to be named. The full text of his broadside runs as follows:
"'Pat' - we have a Members Bulletin that you can publish a particular view in as well as in the Weekly Worker. Why not submit your gripes, criticisms, cutting Bolshevik analysis to this? There is a London aggregate coming up - I would be interested to talk to you in person. As far as I am concerned, if you consider yourself a member, a dissident, you've got to stand up and identify yourself or your criticisms can seem like nothing more than snide commentary designed more for show than discussion. I think you'll have to make a choice - CPGB or SP - if you can't get any more sympathisers."
The postcard also carried a more cryptic message. It depicts Harry Hill, the semi-surreal, semi-funny comedian. Our SP comrade chose this card to make a certain point about the supposed identity of Pat Strong.
Over the last few months, another Harry - Harry Paterson, an SP comrade from Nottingham - has been waved in our faces. A recently resigned SPer now in the Alliance for Workers' Liberty told us about a document produced by comrade Paterson and has promised to provide us with a copy (although it has not yet materialised). At the recent Welsh Socialist Alliance conference in Llandrindod Wells I was challenged good-naturedly by the SP's leading comrade in Wales, Alec Thraves, who knowingly inquired, "How's Harry Paterson, then?" Several other comrades report similar cryptic jibes from SP types.
Harry Paterson is a subscriber to the Weekly Worker. More than that, we cannot say about the man - except he should talk to us. But it is clear that as a (presumably) left dissident inside Peter Taaffe's group, he is being branded as a fellow traveller of the CPGB.
Obviously, the term 'Weekly Worker sympathiser' is being thrown about as a generalised term of abuse inside the SP, a sort of catch-all phrase that implies something akin to a paid agent, or a dangerous germ. This is yet more evidence of the degeneration of Peter Taaffe's now rather paranoid sect. Both in its official politics and the way it views critical thinkers, it more and more resembles the 'official communism' which it professes implacable opposition to historically.
Just last week, I wrote about a leading SP comrade who attributed totally false politics to our organisation in order to discredit it. Rather than deliberate lying, this comrade's nonsense about our "support" for the Moscow trials is a product of a sort of bureaucratic cretinism induced by the undemocratic culture of the left. Anyone like myself with a background in 'official communism' can recount plenty of anecdotes highlighting the same brand of crude amalgam of truth and half-truth deployed to rubbish oppositionist ideas.
While we are not aware of the nuances of this particular debate in the SP, we do have circumstantial evidence of clumsy baiting. As I illustrated last week, given that the shrinking membership of the SP are in the main politically illiterate - and seemingly proud of it - 'smearing' opponents with the charge of 'Weekly Worker sympathiser' might just be enough to stop a serious discussion of ideas, something the crass manoeuvrer Taaffe consistently avoids like a plague. Witch-hunters in Scargill's Socialist Labour Party employed the same technique.
When we get the Paterson document, we will publish and comment directly. In the meantime, whatever the nature of the difference inside the SP, one thing is clear - the Taaffeite leadership is accusing its opposition of a commitment to openness and debate: ie, as championed by our paper. If this is true, excellent. There is no copyright on the truth or the critical culture needed for the truth to flourish. If there are ideas defended in the pages of this paper - whether on our approach to programme, democratic centralism or the nature of the USSR - that are starting to make sense to SP comrades, then good for them. Whatever taunts thrown in their direction, they should fight to win a majority in the SP with tenacity and a degree of ruthlessness.
It is entertaining to recall that according to the SP's campaigns organiser, Hannah Sell, the Communist Party can have unrestricted access to the organisation's Members Bulletin. Interviewed in this paper nearly three years ago, she told us that "I think internal disputes in general should be openly discussed . [The split with Grant] was a long time ago. At that time we had a different tradition, but in the last few years we've been very open . If you want to find out more, you're more than welcome to get hold of our internal documents" (Weekly Worker May 8 1997). Thus, we assume that if we phone up the SP centre and asked for all the documentation relating to the Paterson debate, our pal Hannah will pop them in the post to us.
In the words of Harry Hill himself, what are chances of that happening, aye?