King Arthur?s scabbing

The SLP general secretary has called on the state to ban the party political broadcasts of the Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party. Ian Donovan comments

As Simon Harvey reported in a recent , in the aftermath of his Socialist Labour Party?s failure, despite standing 114 mostly paper candidates, to wreck the election campaign of the Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party, Arthur Scargill appears to have lost all reason and even pretence of principle as a socialist.

Having erected a grossly anti-democratic regime in the SLP from its formation in 1996, Scargill proceeded to use every dirty bureaucratic trick in the book to destroy the influence of the hundreds of militants who saw his call for a new party as the way to realise their socialist aspirations. From organised intimidation in meetings, the fraudulent use of fictitious ?block votes? at conferences, to summary ?voidings? (expulsions without right of hearing or appeal), Scargill stopped at nothing to smash the influence of the socialist-minded membership the SLP had begun to generate. In many ways, the Socialist Alliance is a product of that failure, only really becoming a viable project after Scargill?s betrayal of the SLP?s potential.

Despite the best efforts of Scargill to fake an election campaign and get one over on the SA, his stunt failed, and we gained significantly more votes than the SLP in a generally quite disappointing election for the left. What the Socialist Alliance gained was not so much votes, but the birth of a real national organisation, with great potential for the future. Scargill gained effectively nothing, except egg on his face and a reputation as a busted flush.

His balloon thus popped, Scargill has since taken an action that contradicts every ounce of principle that he ever had (and he once had quite a bit). Unable to bear the fact of his project being electorally eclipsed, including by the kind of people he devoted considerable energy to witch-hunting out of his organisation from 1996-98, he is now appealing to the Blair government to ban his rivals from having future election broadcasts, trying to exploit obscure and highly dubious legal technicalities from the Blairites? anti-democratic electoral laws (which have already been used to ban the Socialist Party and the CPGB from standing in elections under their own name).

This is scabbing, pure and simple. It is straying over into the camp of the class enemy to try to instigate a state ban on working class organisations. On the contrary, socialists should be agitating for more access for the labour movement to television, radio, the mass circulation newspapers - you name it - to the same degree as the ?mainstream? (ie, pro-business, pro-capitalist) parties have. Socialist opinions are marginalised enough on the mass media without the likes of Scargill.

Let there be no doubt about what Scargill has done. In his post-election ?detailed report?, Scargill complains that, ?? the broadcasters? liaison group made a decision regarding the Socialist Alliance which completely contravenes legislation and its own guidelines.

?The Socialist Alliance, which is only registered as a political party in England, was allowed a UK-wide broadcast, at the end of which its name appeared together with that of the Scottish Socialist Party, a separately registered party only in Scotland.

?This bizarre ?dispensation? angered not only ourselves but the Green Party and even the UK Independence Party. We have written to the broadcasters? liaison group in the person of the BBC?s chief political adviser, Anne Sloman, and to the home office requesting an explanation as to why current legislation appears to have been breached by granting one UK-wide broadcast to two separately registered parties, each a conglomerate of a number of separate organisations which has been registered as a political party for the purposes of an election broadcast only [emphasis added, to clarify that Scargill is calling for a ban on the SSP being allowed to broadcast in Scotland also - ID].

?We have demanded that the question of a political party?s registration should be clarified and that there should be no arrangement which allows groups or alliances of political parties and organisations (some of which are not registered) to be regarded as one party for the purpose of a party election broadcast? (emphasis added, statement by Scargill - www.socialist-labour-party.org.uk).

In fact, the implications of this go much further than just the question of an election broadcast. After all, a broadcast is an automatic entitlement of any election campaign whose candidates exceed a certain number. If the election broadcast is considered illegitimate, then logically so must be the election campaign itself. Scargill has not only dabbled in class treachery by calling on the state to ban the election broadcasts of those he cannot defeat politically. The logic of his questioning of the status of the alliance and its entitlement to a broadcast is to question whether the Socialist Alliance and SSP should be registered at all. In other words, the logic of Scargill?s disgraceful appeal to Blair and Blunkett to ban SA/SSP election broadcasts leads straight to the demand that the SA and SSP?s election campaigns should themselves be ruled invalid: ie, be banned!

Scargill?s cheerleaders among the ?official communists? (ie, Stalinists), as well as among some of the stranger elements who formally claim to be opposed to Stalinism, or who are otherwise enraptured with the cult of Scargill?s personality on the British left, will react with outrage to this characterisation. One example of a supposedly non-Stalinist, revolutionary current that kow-tows in a particularly grotesque manner before the cult of Scargill is the Spartacist League.

A rather strange offshoot of an American Trotskyist cult itself, the SL appears to see in Scargill a kindred spirit. The SL has been notorious for years for its grovelling after Stalinists, and indeed it claims it admires Scargill for his once-forthright defence of the Stalinised USSR. Funny thing is, Scargill is now part of a typical Stalinist combination with a bunch of hard-line Maoists/Stalinists around Harpal Brar, who were fervent opponents of the USSR in the Cold War, when they thundered along with Beijing and Tirana against ?Soviet social imperialism? as the Maoists moved into the American camp.

Such matters, which the SL once at least sincerely believed were principled question to the highest degree, do not seem to bother them much now.

As part of their recent feeble attempts to schmoose round the SLP milieu, Spartacist supporters went out campaigning for Socialist Labour in a couple of constituencies. They targeted seats where the SLP was deliberately opposing the SA.

In Greenwich and Woolwich, for example, where there was no SLP campaign whatsoever (its candidate, Margaret Sharkey, was never seen in the constituency, even for the count), they set up a ?Vote SLP? stall alongside that of the SA. Greenwich was the only constituency where the SA?s candidate was a member of Workers Power, Kirstie Paton. She was the only SA candidate to enjoy the ?critical support? of the Spartacists? one-time comrades from the International Bolshevik Tendency. The fact that comrade Paton is a self-declared Trotskyist was no doubt the reason why both the SL and the IBT decided to direct their limited forces to her seat.

The Spartacists also went out campaigning for Brar acolyte and Stalin Society stalwart Ella Rule, who stood against the SA?s Louise Christian in Hornsey and Wood Green. Workers Hammer boasted with typical braggadocio tinged with condescension that, ?Many members of the SLP come from a Stalinist background and some got their first introduction to genuine Trotskyism in the campaign. We Trotskyists uniquely fought against counterrevolution in the USSR? (Workers Hammer summer issue). However, many of the nutcase ?anti-Khrushchevite revisionists? whom the SL is now courting and supporting against the Socialist Alliance as part of the SLP are fervent in their hatred of Trotsky and all things Trotskyist.

Of course, this little matter, formerly of great ?principle?, is of no concern at all to the SL now. What matters is hatred of its rivals on the far left, and therefore of the Socialist Alliance. The symbol of the Socialist Alliance?s election campaign was a red flag. Arguably, an appropriate symbol of the SLP?s campaign would have been an ice-pick, of the type that murdered Trotsky. This is borne out by the rabid rantings against Trotskyists and all their works (particularly, of course, the Socialist Alliance) that pervades Scargill?s report on the general election, quoted earlier.

The SL boasts that in the election it gave ?critical? support to the SLP, against Labour and the Socialist Alliance, making much of the fact that components of the Socialist Alliance such as the SWP and Workers Power retain key elements of their old auto-Labourism in advocating support to Labour candidates in the absence of an SA candidate.

This is of course a rightist flaw in some of the organisations of the Socialist Alliance, which they have logically taken a step away from in their wholesale participation in the alliance. As the SA project continues to grow, Blairite candidates who do not fear an SA electoral challenge will become an endangered species, and this question will be resolved in practice. But for the SL, this mistaken position of some leftists, which ironically is taken from a dogmatic interpretation of the writings of Leon Trotsky himself, takes precedence over even more basic questions of class principle, and the question of workers? democracy in particular.

The Spartacist League makes great play about its ?principled? refusal to support one particular SLP candidate, Gordon Potts, who is a probation officer. This recourse to supposed ?principle? serves as its fig-leaf for support to the SLP against the SA, despite Scargill?s recent history of witch-hunts against the left in the SLP, a record that frankly is even worse, given the different proportions of the SLP and the Labour Party, than the arch-witch-hunter himself, Neil Kinnock.

The Spartacists boasted, right from the very beginning of the SLP project, of their support for Scargill?s attacks against the left. Indeed, it positively revelled in them, claiming that the Scargillite ?left? wing was attacking the allegedly pro-Blairite ?right wing? (ie, the revolutionary-inclined elements in the SLP). The SL is thus indirectly complicit in the attacks of Scargill against the left, including this latest pathetic act of scabbing by Scargill, in appealing to the Blair government to ban SA and SSP broadcasts.

The SL is notorious for making fabricated accusations of ?scabbing? against other leftists. It has tried to incite supporters of Arthur Scargill to deal with such leftists as ?scabs?. What is the SL to do now that its hero, Arthur Scargill, has become a scab himself? Particularly since the intended victim of his scabbing is the Socialist Alliance. Will the cult-followers of James Robertson now engage in a hysterical campaign of denunciation against Scargill? Unlikely.