Weird and wonderful

The Socialist Labour Party's 4th Congress will take place in London's Conway Hall on November 2-3. In 1999 general secretary Arthur Scargill persuaded delegates that annual congresses were a waste of time and should be replaced with triennial gatherings. The membership up to then had had the unfortunate habit of wanting to discuss SLP internal organisation and even try to make changes to Scargill's constitution. So, for the first time in three years, we will have the opportunity to gauge the health - or otherwise - of the party as a whole, since just about every SLP activist at whatever level will be able to attend the congress. In order to disguise the party's decline Scargill has decided that each Constituency SLP may send up to six delegates - three per CSLP were allowed in 1999 and only one the previous year. As most branches have far less than six members, in effect Scargill is inviting everybody to be a delegate. In that way he hopes to create the illusion of a large, vibrant organisation. The preliminary agenda, published earlier this month, reveals that 35 CSLPs have sent in motions or constitutional amendments. As a rough yardstick of the level of branch activity this actually compares well with 1999, when only 28 did so. No doubt Scargill will claim that individual membership has increased yet again to something over 3,000 (in fact it has remained static at around 400). However, the published motions show that, whereas the membership may not have decreased numerically, you cannot say the same looking at it from a qualitative point of view. What is on the agenda ranges from the utopian to the weird, to the downright unhinged. How about this from St Austell and Truro, to take just one example? - "On the basis that any loyal citizen of this country should be prepared to pay taxes for the general well-being, then this party believes that those individuals who have secreted their wealth in overseas tax havens have thereby foregone their rights to British citizenship and should be treated as illegal inhabitants." Not typical? Well, you might be surprised by some of the other offerings as well. According to Scargill's fantasy constitution, each branch "with membership of up to but not exceeding 1,000" has the right to submit a single motion or constitutional amendment. But what the CSLPs have come up with are clearly not the result of hotly contested debate between dozens of keen minds. Rather they are the ponderings of isolated and often sad individuals, each with their own hobby horse bearing no relation to the real world of working class struggle. Thus Kingston and Surbiton demands trade union rights for the police, Erewash wants all members of unions affiliated to the Labour Party to stop paying the political levy, and Berwick upon Tweed calls for the immediate abolition of women's prisons (getting rid of men's might take a little longer). Then there is the rambling motion from Liverpool West Derby which equates the "destruction and dispersal of working class communities" through the demolition of housing estates with Israeli actions against the Palestinians. Meanwhile Brighton Pavilion stresses the need for "good relations with the Workers Party of Korea". There are a whole batch of motions of the 'wouldn't it be nice?' variety. Wouldn't it be nice if pensions were raised, if the elderly enjoyed "the highest standards of best qualified care"? If £15 billion per year was spent on the NHS, if all nuclear, biological and chemical weapons were eliminated? It does not seem to have entered the mind of the movers that the role of a working class party is to act itself to try and shape the world it inhabits. But of course the remaining SLP members do not regard themselves as leaders: they are followers - of king Arthur, the would-be labour dictator. But, to be honest, Scargill is equally bereft of ideas as far as action is concerned. The national executive which he heads may move three motions - its opportunity to map out the way ahead for the next three years? But the NEC has come up with the briefest of platitudes - racism is bad, comprehensive education is good; British war crimes must be stopped, with an "immediate end to the production of weapons containing depleted uranium". The phantom North West, Cheshire and Cumbria Miners Association - one of the two "affiliated trade unions" (the other is a Sheffield Ucatt branch) - is also entitled to three motions by virtue of its 3,000 paper members. They also bear Scargill's personal stamp: the "immediate repeal of all anti-trade union legislation" which is "in conflict with the United Nations charter and International Labour Organisation conventions" (interestingly the Stalinite Normanton CSLP wants to remove reference to the UN and ILO from the SLP's objectives in Scargill's constitution). The other two motions are for "public ownership" and an "integrated energy policy" (backed up by import controls, of course). The disagreement over illusions in imperialist-backed international organisations is not the only sign of increasing tension between Scargill and the fans of JV Stalin. Followers of NEC member Harpal Brar, editor of the ultra-Stalinite Lalkar, have for the past few years controlled the tiny women's and youth sections of the SLP. The women's section is permitted one motion, which reads: "The secretary of the SLP women's section should be given contact details of all female members of the party to give opportunity to canvass women who may not be aware of the women's section." Why go to the trouble of placing this routine question before congress? Why not simply ask Arthur to sort it out? Well, obviously they have, but he won't. Astonishingly Scargill has ruled this out of order on the grounds that: "This motion cannot be accepted because what it seeks is already existing policy and is carried out." So Ella Rule and Amanda Rose, the two Brarite women's section representatives on the NEC, must have misplaced the lists of female members he keeps sending them. Scargill has also deemed unacceptable another motion on the women's and youth sections from Hampstead and Highgate. Even more bizarrely, Scargill has excluded motions from Knowsley North and Sheffield Hallam because they are "in reality an attempt to change the constitution" (which requires a two-thirds majority rather than the simple majority for successful motions). Knowsley wants the NEC to "consult the membership on a name that leaves 'Labour' out of our title", while Sheffield calls on congress to "initiate a debate on the question of ideology" with a view to adopting "Marxism-Leninism" (my emphasis). I know that consulting the membership and initiating debate are alien concepts for Arthur, but surely they do not require a change in the constitution? Some comrades have attempted to bring Scargill's Labour-type bureaucratic constitution, designed for a ready-made mass party, more in line with the actual reality, while others try to transform the SLP into a mass party to bring it into line with the constitution. In the first category we have Redcar CSLP, which wants to do something about the large number of constituency parties that consist of only one member. In fact Constituency SLPs are not the lowest party unit - it is the smaller "local party branches" that come into that category. In fact more than a page is devoted to the powers of such "local party branches" in the constitution - only they are responsible for the selection of candidates for local elections. The trouble is, there is not a single one of them in existence in the entire country! So Redcar thinks it would be a good idea to give the regions the constitutional power to select candidates for council elections. Glasgow Shettleston also wants to give more powers to the regions - but at the expense of party centre. So Scargill has nipped that one in the bud - out of order! Bristol East takes the opposite approach: the constitution is fine, but the party must be made to fit it. These comrades propose the appointment of several full-time national organisers; the raising of £150,000 a year for party funds; and moves to "ensure that party regalia and the Socialist News is widely available within the labour movement". More realistically, one feels, they call for "the maintenance of the party website with at least weekly updates". That would certainly be an improvement over once a year. CPGB London forum Scargill and Scargillism - Sunday September 15, 5pm. Speaker: Dave Douglass, the last elected NUM branch secretary at Hatfield Main pit. Diorama Arts Centre, 34 Osnaburgh Street, NW1 . Phone 020 8965 0659 for details