Next for the chop?

This weekend, Saturday and Sunday November 2-3, the Socialist Labour Party meets for its triennial congress in London's Conway Hall. Just about every remaining SLP activist - at whatever level - will gather in Red Lion Square, because general secretary Arthur Scargill has invited literally the whole membership to attend. Not only is each constituency SLP entitled to six delegates (most functioning CSLPs have only two or three comrades), but every individual member has also been invited to register for congress. While individuals will presumably have no voting rights, their presence is needed to help swell the numbers and, as far as possible, create the illusion of some kind of organisation. Even so, it will be difficult. Paper membership may well have remained static at around 400 since the last congress, held in 1999. But there is no disguising the deterioration in organisational structure, morale and consequently activity in the intervening period. So far every congress, apart from the 1996 founding event, has been followed by desertions of whole swathes of the membership. December 1997 - when the SLP was at its zenith, with more than 2,000 enthusiastic adherents - saw Scargill forced to reveal his secret anti-democratic weapon: the votes of 3,000 claimed members of a newly affiliated 'trade union', the North West, Cheshire and Cumbria Miners Association. Faced with the possibility of losing a vote, Scargill saved the day - for himself - by fielding this single block to overwhelm the opposition. This block vote was used most controversially to back a motion abolishing the party's black section, even though a big majority of individual members were in favour of retaining it. The ineffective left opposition, already depleted by Scargill's campaign of 'voiding' (summary expulsion) of 'undesirable elements', departed during, or in the immediate aftermath, of the congress in utter demoralisation. Soon after, Scargill fell out with the shadowy Fourth International Supporters Caucus of Patrick Sikorski and Brian Heron, up until then his most craven and loyal courtiers. In October 1998 comrade Sikorski - now deputy general secretary of the RMT - was booted out of as vice-president and Fisc was summarily discarded. King Scargill had found a new set of fawning lackeys. So out went Fisc and in came the homophobe Royston Bull and his little band of Economic and Philosophical Science Review minions. This caused outrage and provoked the exit of a whole layer of founding members who had previously worshipped Scargill. But the glory days of Bull and his followers were short-lived. Scargill demanded that they close their little photocopied newsletter and was met with a grovelling refusal. November 1999 marked the final exit of Bull and co. It also marked the further erosion of formal democracy with the abolition of annual congresses, which signalled another, albeit less significant, walkout. Will we see a repeat in 2002? There have been signs of tension between Scargill and the only remaining organised faction, Harpal Brar's ultra-Stalinite Lalkar grouping. The Brarites control the SLP's women's and youth sections, but recently Scargill appears to have been withholding from them details of female and young recruits. A motion from the women's section, calling for names to be handed over, was ruled out of order on the grounds that "what it seeks is already existing policy and is carried out". Brar's chances of defeating the current vice-president, Linda Muir, look even more remote than last year and I would not be surprised to see a sharp decline in his votes for the executive election as well. Scargill himself is to resume the presidency after a gap of almost six years. He is unopposed of course. The post of general secretary is certain to go to his loyal lieutenant, Paul Hardman, despite the challenge from Brar acolyte Zane Carpenter. As usual the voting figures for the NEC constituency section will allow SLP-watchers to estimate the true level of membership - which always contrasts so markedly with Scargill's wildly exaggerated claims (his report is likely to declare we have passed 3,000, but Scargill's desperation to pack the congress points to a further drop, perhaps to below 400 for the first time). However, in order to obscure the truth in 1999 Scargill ordered that only the votes for those elected should be announced - the full figures were withheld for several months. One wonders what new device - or other little surprise - he will reveal over the weekend.