Simon Harvey of the SLP
Exactly one week before the Socialist Alliance was agreeing its attitude towards the general election, the Socialist Labour Party's national executive committee was having its routine meeting, receiving reports from the regions and various sub-committees.
A debate on the general election was not scheduled for the September 23 NEC. But the subject came up when Brian Gibson reported on discussions on the question in his region, the North East.
General secretary Arthur Scargill took everyone aback by announcing that nationally Socialist Labour would contest no fewer than 100 seats. Considering that in 1997, when our party had more than 2,000 enthusiastic members, a target of 100 candidates was also set, yet we could only muster 63, it seemed to several NEC members that Arthur was speaking in the spur of the moment, and would perhaps temper his impetuosity after more careful consideration.
After all, today, by contrast, our membership is reduced to a rump of a few hundred inactive, atomised individuals. Most branches are either defunct or existing on paper only and the party's income continues to decrease, as more and more members drop out or simply stop paying through lack of contact with any party officer. Some NEC members had thought we ought to be ready with perhaps a dozen candidates in constituencies where we still have some semblance of an organised presence. Of course no executive member would dare voice the opinion that the SLP ought to cooperate with the SA - even in the unlikely event that such a thought entered their head.
The September-October issue of the internal Socialist Labour Party Information Bulletin announces the formation of an elections sub-committee, which will "allocate the number of seats to be contested in each of the party's regions". Obviously Scargill cannot count on any more than a handful of the remaining Constituency SLPs actually offering to stand a candidate themselves.
So the question is, will Scargill find 100 candidates? And how will he get the £50,000 needed just to pay the deposits? It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that some mysterious donor will come up with the hard cash.
I have already commented on the fact that NEC member Dave Roberts went off on a jaunt to Libya as the SLP's official representative at Gadaffy's youth congress in September 1999 - although Scargill obviously thought that discretion was the better part of valour and Socialist News did not report this act of diplomatic prostitution (Weekly Worker April 27).
Now I see that three comrades - Liz Screen, Ian Johnson and Mick Appleyard - have just returned from Belgrade, where they were acting as observers at the September 24 Yugoslav elections. The SLP was "invited by the Socialist Party of Serbia" to send representatives, according to the Bulletin. Slobodan Milosevic is, as we know, desperate for friends in the west.
However, be that as it may, the story of Scargill and his '100 candidates' does carry a lesson for some on the left, such as the 'minimalists' of the Socialist Alliance. A little determination and initiative can work wonders - and sometimes bring unexpected results.
Of course it remains to be seen whether Scargill's ambitious electoral challenge will actually materialise - with or without the help of a wealthy benefactor.
Singh a new tune
One member of the NEC who definitely will not be throwing himself into the SLP's election campaign is a certain Sohan Singh, a supporter of the ranting Economic and Philosophic Science Review.
Comrade Singh turned up at last weekend's conference of the Socialist Alliance at Coventry - his home town - and made a speech from the floor. Although he introduced himself as "recently of the SLP NEC", he is still a member of the elected leadership, despite his failure to attend its meetings.
His speech came over as reasonably sympathetic to the alliance project. Comrade Singh said he was for "maximum unity, maximum conflict" - the left could work together while simultaneously fighting the ideological battle to "revive Marxism-Leninism".
However, the copy of the EPSR that 'Paul' subsequently handed out seemed to carry a rather different emphasis: "Purely organisational manoeuvring around the illusion-riddled 'socialist alliances' is coming towards a crescendo in the run-up to the September 30 Coventry conference of the SA network," writes the anonymous author (although who could mistake the inimitable style of Royston Bull, EPSR editor and former SLP vice-president?).
"Sadly all these 'alliance' manoeuvres look like adding up to the most fraudulent posturing yet inflicted on the proletariat by the fake 'left', and it would be good if these conferences heard exactly that warning."
Sorry, Roy, but Sohan's contribution did not quite come over like that. There again, he always was one of the most unlikely members of the EPSR gang - far too mild-mannered.
I was, however, pleased to note the presence in Coventry not only of many former Socialist Labour Party members, but a few current ones - apart from comrade Singh, that is. I am glad to say that they were taking a rather more constructive view of the proceedings. A real movement for unity, which actually stands a chance of advancing towards the aim of a single working class party, is preferable to Scargill's sectarian go-it-alone madness - any time.