Simon Harvey of the SLP

Defeat failed ideas

Arthur Scargill, general secretary of the Socialist Labour Party, continues to insist that "more than 100" SLP candidates will be contesting the forthcoming general election. In fact no fewer than 109 "constituencies already finalised" are listed in Socialist News, the SLP bimonthly (March-April).

Of course, far from being "finalised", many of these are still part of a wish list. Nevertheless, it now seems likely that Scargill will succeed in putting up a good many candidates - perhaps even more than in 1997, when the total was 64, despite the target of 100 also announced then.

What is regrettable about this SLP challenge is not the fact that we are standing - far from it. The fact that at this election there will be so many candidates claiming the mantle of socialism - irrespective of their understanding of the word - is excellent. No, it is the fact that in over 30 of Scargill's intended seats a Socialist Alliance challenge has already been decided upon. As usual, our general secretary has so far simply ignored all approaches - at national as well as local level - for, at the very least, an agreement that no socialists should stand against each other.

He all along refused to even inform the SA officially of his intentions, with the result that the alliance had no alternative but to go ahead with its own plans. Yet, judging from all the election results over the last year or so, the SA now seems to be better placed than the SLP in terms of support. If the whole left came together in a single, united campaign there is no doubt that our combined forces would make a far greater impact.

In some areas it is almost as though the SLP has deliberately targeted seats that the SA has announced it will contest. But I do know of several constituencies where the opposite has been the case: some SLP comrades have tried to avoid clashes, telling Scargill or his minions that the constituency they have selected is 'unsuitable'. I have heard of one SLP candidate - an elderly comrade pulled out of inactivity to front the campaign - who actually attended an alliance meeting. He apologised for the fact that he had been told to oppose the SA and said he was hoping to persuade Scargill to focus on a neighbouring seat.

Scargill knows full well that the SLP has failed to make the hoped for breakthrough. Today our party has just two or three hundred inactive members, compared to the 2,000-plus that we could boast in the months after our launch in 1996. In addition most of our prominent figures have now jumped ship. Mick Rix, general secretary of Aslef, the rail union, has quietly rejoined the Labour Party, while well known lawyer Louise Christian (like Imran Khan before her) has also quit the party. Now comrade Christian has been nominated as the Socialist Alliance prospective parliamentary candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green.

Significantly, the publicity for the March 20 rally to launch her campaign had Bob Crow, assistant general secretary of the RMT union and member of the SLP NEC, down to speak in her support. Unfortunately he was unable to attend, but sent his apologies. Comrade Crow is keeping quiet about his status regarding Scargill's party and insists that he is not backing the alliance as such: he agreed to speak only because of his support for comrade Christian herself. Nevertheless, the message is pretty clear. Similarly, Joe Marino, general secretary of the Bakers Union, is keeping his head down.

So how will Socialist Labour manage to finance, publicise and run its election campaign? Certainly membership subscriptions do not bring in a fortune. Let us for the sake of argument assume that there are 300 members paying the full £1 per week. Even if not a penny was spent (expenses for officials and NEC meetings, subsidies for Socialist News, etc), that would bring in only £15,000 a year. Just to pay the deposits of 100 candidates will require £50,000.

Of course the membership, with the exception of a handful of branches, is in no shape to mount any kind of campaign. We will be relying on a TV broadcast and the free delivery of our election address by Royal Mail, but simply paying for printing would cost twice as much again, and most of the remaining branches are hardly functioning at all and have virtually no cash.

Yet Scargill does not seem to be concerned about money. There has been no appeal for funds, either publicly or internally. It is true that he can still persuade wealthy benefactors to cough up. Socialist News reports that actor Ricky Tomlinson from TV's The Royle family has made a "generous donation" to the SLP election fund (the article does not mention that he is backing the SA campaign as well).

However, many suspect that there are other sources Scargill is rather less keen to talk about. Over the last two or three years the SLP has sent delegations to Serbia, Libya and Cuba, where they have had talks with high-ranking officials. SLP comrades behaved in a particularly sycophantic way with regard to Serbia and Libya. In February of this year Scargill himself entertained leaders of North Korea's ruling Workers Party in London. And then there are the Manic Street Preachers!

Be that as it may, it would be a mistake to believe that the SLP cannot harm the SA campaign, and the left intervention as a whole. While Scargill has only a tiny fraction of the SA's forces at his disposal, he has something which the alliance cannot yet match - his own name and reputation.

While it seems likely right now that the SA and Scottish Socialist Party will gain a much bigger share of the vote than the SLP, as long as Scargill is still around his party will be able to win support. Even as things stand, his sabotage could well cost the SA several lost deposits. But it only needs some unexpected turn of events, with Scargill happening to be in the right place at the right time, for the Socialist Labour Party to make a miraculous recovery.

If that were to happen with the SLP's labour dictator firmly at the helm, it would be a disaster for the working class movement. It would shatter the prospect of a united, powerful party that was possible at the time of the SLP's formation and that the SA now seems to promise.

That is why it is foolish in the extreme to ignore Scargill and hope he will go away. In the eyes of militant workers he is still the hero of the miners' Great Strike, not the stubborn sectarian wrecker of left unity and SLP democracy. Scargill can only be defeated politically, through exposing the authoritarian national socialism he promotes.

But for that to happen the Socialist Alliance itself must become political too. It must actively promote the self-liberatory content of revolutionary socialist democracy, not pander to the imagined yearnings for old Labour top-down bureaucracy. That is Scargill's territory.

Only an educated working class will be able to defeat the failed ideas of yesterday.