With friends like these ...
This paper has frequently commented on the fantasy world inhabited by Arthur Scargill. Comrade Scargill, the general secretary of the Socialist Labour Party, likes to wax lyrical - mainly in an attempt to persuade himself, it seems - about the marvellous advances constantly being made by the SLP, as it never ceases to grow in membership, influence and of course electoral success.
Those on the left - not least within the Socialist Alliance - who up to now might have been prepared to concede that there was perhaps an element of truth in his fanciful claims will no doubt have been disabused by their own personal experience during the general election campaign. Despite managing to stand in 114 constituencies (in 35 of them in opposition to the SA), SLP members were, with very few exceptions, nowhere to be seen.
Just about everywhere it was the same. No SLP stalls, no teams of leafleters, in fact no campaign. This was hardly surprising, since in the majority of seats there was no functioning SLP branch. Local newspapers were unable to contact candidates in order to feature them in their election coverage. Some did not even show at the count.
SA activists all have their stories about these paper candidates. One of my favourites concerns Camberwell and Peckham, in south London, where John Mulrenan was contesting for the SA. After the vote was declared at the town hall, an alliance comrade was approached by a lone figure, who asked if he had noted the details of the result. Our comrade obliged and asked who this individual might be. ?Bob Adams, the SLP candidate,? came the reply. It was the first time that anybody had seen either him or any other SLPer in the area. Why, asked our comrade, did the SLP stand when it had no forces, no funds and no real existence in Camberwell (the candidate was not even able to organise a rosette, let alone any helpers)? ?Orders,? replied comrade Adams monosyllabically.
However, typical though this anecdote may be, the fact that Scargill somehow raised the cash to finance so many interventions will have created the desired illusion of a functioning, not to say vibrant, party among some sections of the media and the electorate. What Scargill lacks though is any kind of public face. The SLP website is very rarely updated and the deadly dull Socialist News comes out only once every two months - with virtually no-one to sell it when it does.
One publication that attempts to fill the breach is another even more obscure bimonthly: Lalkar, whose editor is SLP national executive member Harpal Brar. Lalkar used to inform its readers that it was the organ of the Indian Workers Association (Great Britain), but that by-line has been dropped for quite some time now. Whatever its formal status, this paper in practice is the journal of comrade Brar himself. It is renowned for its fire-eating ultra-Stalinite polemics, which at least have the virtue of stopping its readers nodding off - not something that can be said about Socialist News.
In the latest edition comrade Brar treats us, under the guise of an analysis of the election, to a tirade against the SA and in particular against the ?snivelling Trotskyites of the Weekly Worker?, upon which he seems to rely almost entirely for his information. To give you an idea of the nature of comrade Brar?s politics, let me quote from his article:
?? the SLP, unlike in the 1997 general election, was faced with not only fighting against the traditional parties of British monopoly capital, but also its ?socialist? agents in the working class movement: namely the so-called Socialist Alliance, made up of 15 disparate counterrevolutionary Trotskyite parties, organisations, grouplets and weird outfits, who, while hating each other and hardly able to agree on anything of importance, were nevertheless united in their rabid hatred of socialism and working class power (past and present) in general, and their hostility to the Socialist Labour Party in particular.?
For those puzzled by what on earth he means, let me enlighten you. Comrade Brar uses the term ?working class power? to describe Stalin?s Soviet Union, Mao?s China, Pol Pot?s Cambodia and Kim?s North Korea. Yes, a little on the eccentric side. But those who know that the ruthless, bloodthirsty dictatorships over the proletariat (and every other section of the population) that held, or still hold, sway in those countries were the very antithesis of ?working class power? must, for comrade Brar, be deadly enemies.
And by extension, they must also be deadly enemies of the SLP, which, in comrade Brar?s mind, is the champion of the kind of regime presided over by JV Stalin. Not quite the case, actually. Nell Myers, the editor of Socialist News, sees to it that all mention of the glories of Stalin?s USSR is given the blue pencil treatment. She has to think of her old-Labour, Scargillite and more orthodox ?official? communist readers. Never mind: since Brar?s followers enjoy a good deal of influence (his daughter Joti edits the SLP women?s journal Women for Socialism, while Ranjeet, his son, carries out the same function for Spark, the youth journal), he can persuade himself that the SLP is a thoroughly Stalinite party and Scargill a thoroughly Stalinite leader.
In fact Arthur Scargill acts first and foremost to further his own ambitions to head a working class movement as its labour dictator. If Brar can be used for that purpose, so be it. After all he used the Trotskyite Fourth International Supporters Caucus (Fisc) in exactly that way from the founding of the SLP in 1996 until he dumped them two years later. Up until then, Fisc?s Patrick Sikorski had been, first, general secretary and, later, vice-president.
True, Scargill knows that what he is lacking in terms of membership can perhaps be made up for through cultivating diplomatic relationships with some highly dubious regimes, and SLP delegations have visited Libya, Serbia, Cuba and North Korea over the last couple of years. This is what comrade Brar has to say on the matter:
?While asserting that the SLP had no money to finance its election campaign, they [the Socialist Alliance] contradictorily pointed to its ability to ?persuade wealthy benefactors to cough up? and its alleged access to limitless Libyan, Serbian, Cuban and North Korean gold - for no other reason than that the SLP maintains fraternal links with these countries and, unlike the incurably counterrevolutionary Trotskyite outfits, gives full backing to working class and anti-imperialist national liberation movements and regimes.?
It is certainly the case that some comrades, particularly Weekly Worker writers, have contrasted the SLP?s lack of cadre and absence of any public appeal for funds with its ability to pay for 114 election deposits and three million glossy election addresses. Weekly Worker writers have also commented on those little jaunts to Pyongyang, Havana, Tripoli and Belgrade. But I have never seen the two phenomena linked so clearly as here.
However, comrade Brar passes on quickly without stopping to deny the ?alleged? connection. You get the feeling that he would really like to say, ?What if we do get a little help from our international friends?? He would no doubt consider such diplomatic prostitution before enemies of the working class as proletarian internationalism.
Brar also seems to be a little upset by the obvious fact, pointed out many times in these pages, that the SLP?s existence, its very survival, rests upon the reputation of Scargill as the hero of the miners? Great Strike: ?So here we have a mockery of an explanation, which reduces everything to Arthur Scargill, the individual, not Arthur Scargill, the Marxist, whose firm fidelity to the principles of socialism, unstinting support for socialist regimes and revolutionary national liberation movements, principled and fearless stewardship of working class struggles in this country, especially that of the coal miners during the heroic coal strike of 1984-85 which deservedly made his name a legend among the working class ?? - comrade Brar carries on for a few more lines without ever completing his sentence.
But not only does the SLP have its very own ?Great Leader?. It ?went into the election with a Marxist manifesto, unlike the SA, which went in pandering to the ?imagined yearning for old Labour? (Weekly Worker?s words, not ours)?. A ?Marxist manifesto?! Read the thing. It lists a whole batch of reforms, and then goes on to cost them, making it clear that all of them could be enacted by a reforming capitalist government. It demands ?a fair and sensible tax system?, states that ?arms expenditure should be cut by two thirds? and calls for Britain to ?begin to regain control of its economy, sovereignty and its political powers? by withdrawing from the European Union.
In fact many of the policies proposed by the SLP were very similar, if not identical, to those of the alliance. Like the SA, the SLP put forward a series of eminently supportable demands on health, education, housing, pensions, wages, etc - but signally failed to lay out anything resembling a strategy for the working class itself to take power. Everything is to be handed down from above once Scargill is elected to No10.
What really outrages our Stalinite friend is the following statement, contained in the SA manifesto: ?By socialism we mean nothing like the old Stalinist Soviet Union, with repression and bureaucracy? - enough to ?gladden the hearts of the bourgeoisie?, says Brar. He then goes on to quote the following, also taken from the SA manifesto:
?For us, socialism is about making solidarity the guiding principle of society. We mean the working class organising to liberate itself from the rule of profit and create its own democracy, abolishing the privileges of managers and officials. Every major industry should be reorganised on the lines of social provision for need - publicly owned and democratically controlled by workers and the community. No rich and no poor, no profits and no wage slavery, no palaces and no homeless, no jobless and no overworked.?
Comments comrade Brar: ?This meaningless reformist mishmash is to the right of clause four of Labour?s old constitution ?? since ?these vague and empty phrases dodge the issue of implementation?. He also condemns the following: ?? we are all united on one principle - the decisions on how to fight for socialism will be made by working class people themselves, through their own democratic organisations. Socialism will never be achieved behind the backs of the working class by decree, or by some committee or other? (SA manifesto).
According to comrade Brar, ?The whole point of a political party is that it should offer political understanding, organisation and leadership ? A party claiming to represent the interests of the working class cannot opt out of its responsibilities by saying that the working class will decide what it will do.? For him, obviously, the concepts ?leadership? and ?democracy? are diametrically opposed: the former means the crushing of the latter.
Apart from the failure of the SA to marvel at the wonders of Stalin?s USSR, the biggest single reason why, for comrade Brar, the SLP must never entertain the idea of cooperation with the alliance is the SA?s alleged attitude towards the Labour Party. After all, ?History furnishes sufficient proof that social democracy objectively represents the moderate wing of fascism.? And while ?the SLP?s position was clear and straightforward: Labour was as much a capitalist party as the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democratic Party?, the SA is allegedly ?united by ? an almost congenital support for the Labour Party?.
While Brar is very fond of quoting Lenin to prove that Labourites are ?agents of the bourgeoisie in the working class movement?, his ?third period? insistence that Labour constitutes a kind of social-fascism blinds him to the uncomfortable fact that Lenin adopted a much more subtle approach. Brar believes that ?there never was a time when a proletariat [sic] could justifiably vote for Labour?. And yet the same Lenin who damned the party in the way Brar quotes also urged the fledgling CPGB to vote for it.
Surely, as even Brar accepts that Labour forms part of ?the working class movement?, what we need is a strategy which helps its working class members to split from the ?agents of the bourgeoisie?? The question of voting for Labour, as Lenin accepted, was one of tactics, not principle.
Comrade Brar correctly criticises the Socialist Workers Party for its call to ?Vote Labour or socialist? in 1997, and equally correctly for its ?Vote socialist where you can, Labour where you must? formulation in 2001. He even condemns the SWP for its ?tailist and economist auto-Labourism?. Congratulations, comrade. You have learnt the terms used by the Weekly Worker. All you have to do now is understand their content.
We have pointed out that the SWP is in danger of switching to auto-anti-Labourism, with its willingness to strike up deals with those such as the Greens who now find themselves to Labour?s left. Brar?s auto-anti-Labourism is of rather a different nature though. For him, Labour lefts ?are fully cognisant of the fact that they are in an imperialist party ? This makes their treachery all the more abominable and unforgivable.? Such people are permanently and irrevocably beyond the pale, it seems.
The only trouble is, where does that leave Arthur Scargill, a loyal Labour Party member until 1995? How come Brar can so easily ?forgive? Scargill, yet cannot recognise that the same process that caused him to ditch the Labour Party, culminating in the scrapping of clause four (the key moment for Scargill), might also cause most of the left to rethink?
Comrade Brar just cannot understand the communist attitude towards winning over Labour workers, nor the communist tactic we proposed at the general election of challenging Labour lefts to support a minimum platform of reforms in favour of the working class. For that we used the SA?s ?priority pledges?, although a list of demands taken from the SLP?s equally reformist manifesto would have done just as well.
The point is, if those claiming to be for the working class cannot even bring themselves to back such minimal reforms, they are revealed as being completely unworthy of electoral support. If, on the other hand, they are prepared to publicly endorse the demands on which socialists themselves have based their campaign, then here is an opportunity to drive a wedge between the working class base of the party and Millbank. Mount a socialist campaign for a vote for such a Labour candidate and see how Blair reacts!
It is quite simple really, but comrade Brar, for all his careful study of the Weekly Worker, just cannot grasp what is being said. He is under the impression that the CPGB is in favour of unconditional support for left Labour candidates. That is why he damns ?the hypocritical counterrevolutionary Trotskyites of the so-called CPGB?, along with our SA comrades, for even considering the possibility of voting for a Labour candidate.
By the way, comrade Brar approvingly republishes extracts from Scargill?s general election ?analysis?, despite its falsified figures and fiddled statistics (see Weekly Worker July 12). He also includes Scargill?s call for the state to ban SA and Scottish Socialist Party election broadcasts. How?s that for an act of class treachery?