Simon Harvey of the SLP
Another fiasco SLP candidates divided over GLA and Livingstone
As the Socialist Labour Party's half-hearted 'campaign' for the Greater London Assembly elections stutters into its last week, the handful of comrades left supporting the stunt are hardly presenting a united front.
General secretary Arthur Scargill's decision to contest the May 4 poll was based entirely on the narrow, sectarian interests of 'his' party and his own forlorn ambition to be Britain's very own labour dictator, and not at all on the needs of the working class. So, not surprisingly, the dwindling band of loyalists are unable to agree on a coherent tactical approach to the GLA elections as a whole - backing the call to vote for the SLP list for the 'London members' PR slate is as far as the unity stretches. As to the mayoral and constituency contests, there are almost as many positions as there are SLP candidates.
At a candidates' organising and planning meeting earlier this month, London regional secretary John Hayball suggested that our party should at least try to take advantage of Ken Livingstone's intervention, as the London Socialist Alliance has been doing. Workers thinking of backing Ken should, argued comrade Hayball, be advised that it did not make sense to vote for Livingstone on the one hand and the anti-Livingstone New Labour clones on the other. They should vote SLP instead.
Harpal Brar, the ultra-Stalinite London president, whose tiny band of followers now constitute the only semi-effective bloc in the capital, was outraged at this 'opportunism'. Livingstone is nothing but a Labourite imperialist scoundrel who should in no circumstances be supported, even implicitly. In fact comrade Brar went further: SLP canvassers should go out of their way to condemn Livingstone, along with all the other bourgeois candidates.
Scargill himself, who not only heads our list, but has taken it upon himself to personally direct (and finance from his own shadowy contacts and sources) the SLP campaign, stepped into the row. Livingstone should simply be ignored and not referred to at all, he decreed. Could be a bit difficult, that one, Arthur.
Of course, in one sense all this is pretty much academic, as the only ones I am aware of who think that canvassing can be realistically undertaken are comrades Hayball himself and Ella Rule, an NEC women's section representative and close confidante of comrade Brar. Only another 4.99 million Londoners still to speak to, comrades.
The fact that we have neither the members nor the resources to intervene effectively ruled out the standing of candidates in the first-past-the-post constituency seats. This leaves another policy black hole. No official advice has been offered as to what voters should do. Just as in the case of the mayoralty, we are, it seems, supposed to pretend that the only poll that matters is the one for the top-up seats. If the SLP is not standing, then the constituency seats are irrelevant. This is what passes for leadership in Scargill's SLP. And he expects Socialist Labour to be taken seriously.
However, from what I hear, there are at least four different unofficial positions being adopted by our 11 candidates. Most have decided that they will personally either abstain or spoil their votes in the constituency ballot, while two favour backing Labour and one each the Greens and the LSA! A similar division exists amongst the remaining 'activists'. This confusion results directly from Scargill's delusions of grandeur and stubborn insistence on ignoring all appeals for left unity.
The LSA, which looks set to record many times more votes than our party, made persistent attempts to bring the SLP on board. If only Scargill had not been so blind, he could have figured prominently on the LSA list and helped boost the left vote. His presence would undoubtedly have added to the alliance's prestige - not to mention giving Socialist Labour a new lease of life.
As it is, I fear the worst for May 4. The 100,000 SLP election leaflets - even if every one of them is distributed by the 20 or so London comrades - only represent one for every 50 electors. Most that are handed out will be given to commuters outside tube stations - a method which usually results in a high wastage rate, as people in a rush to get home often ignore or throw away such items.
Just five tube stations have been earmarked centrally - all relying on the same handful of comrades, who will then proceed to a local rally: at East Ham, Broadwater Farm, Stoke Newington, Walworth and Southall. Last Sunday 70 supporters of the Indian Workers Association attended a meeting in Erith, Kent, mobilised by comrade Brar's followers. Southall is expected to be the only other venue with a relatively good attendance - again thanks to comrade Brar's IWA contacts. The 'culmination' of the campaign will be the final rally addressed by Scargill on Tuesday May 2 in Conway Hall.
Our election leaflet makes no attempt at explaining what the SLP means by socialism. While advocates of the genuine article - the self-liberation of the working class - now constitute a barely perceptible minority, there are two main interpretations amongst what remains of our membership: the first, supported by the likes of Brar, is a form of the dictatorship over the proletariat; the second, in diametric contradiction to comrade Brar's version of revolutionary bureaucratic socialism, is old Labourite national reformism. Scargill's version falls somewhere between the two, of course.
However, it seems there is a variation of Brar's theme - a kind of revolutionary, anti-imperialist diplomatic prostitution. A fine example of this can be found on the website of the Workers Party of Belgium - always a useful source for observing the death throes of Stalinite 'official communism'.
The website reports that SLP NEC member Dave Roberts attended an international youth conference in Libya last September. Comrade Roberts was formerly a supporter of Royston Bull's Economic and Philosophic Science Review, a bizarre, ranting, photocopied weekly, which had a brief period of relative prominence when Scargill promoted Bull as vice-president in 1998 in order to depose his previous courtiers from the leadership.
Bull himself was kicked out within months of his election and the EPSR promptly abandoned the SLP - except for Roberts. He decided to stay and his reward was re-election onto the executive at the final annual congress last November. Dave is no chicken, so what he was doing at a youth conference is a mystery. Speculation aside, it appears he was our official representative at an event which, in the words of the WPB, "was also an opportunity to see first hand and experience the gains of the Libyan revolution".
After visiting the National Soap Factory, Libya's largest, comrade Roberts was apparently so inspired by what he had seen that he delivered the following speech on behalf of the NEC, "which was received by rapturous applause".
He said: "Brothers and sisters, it is a great privilege to be here with you today on the occasion of your celebration of the great Al Fatah revolution. Here in the Great Socialist Jamahiriya, a free land amongst a free people, I bring you socialist and internationalist greetings from the Socialist Labour Party in Britain.
"Many young people who have been involved in the international camps during the last eight years have seen at first hand and marvelled at the great social and economic, political developments you have achieved throughout your 30 years of revolutionary struggle ...
"Those of us fighting for the liberation of our countries from imperialism, and our people from capitalism, pay tribute to the generosity of the Libyan people for the solidarity they have shown to anti-imperialist and progressive movements throughout the world. We hope one day to be able to return to a future celebration of the Al Fatah revolution, and announce that we too have defeated capitalism in our countries and are joining with you in the building of a socialist world. In the meantime we say: Long live the Great Socialist Libyan Peoples Jamahiriya. Long live Muammer Al Gadaffy. Al Fatah forever!"
Voting SLP on May 4 could be the first step in the achievement of a Scargillite 'jamahiriya' here in Britain. What a thought!