Scargill expels Brar

Harpal Brar and the Stalinites who backed Arthur Scargill's previous purges in the Socialist Labour Party have now been purged themselves. Simon Harvey wonders how long it will be before Arthur has finished sawing through the branch he is sitting on.

At last the inevitable has happened. Arthur Scargill has finally rid himself of the leaders of the ultra-Stalinite opposition in the Socialist Labour Party. At its May 8 meeting the SLP executive voted to expel five of its own members - Harpal Brar, Zane Carpenter, Robert Morris, Carlos Rule and Ella Rule - together with the entire executive of the Yorkshire region.

The expulsions have been met with the resignations of a good number of hard-core Stalinites, who have made up the majority of the active membership for the last few years. As well as Yorkshire, they also controlled London, which now has no SLP organisation at all. What remains of the party is now in such disarray and so completely lacking in any kind of infrastructure that standing in the June 10 European and Greater London Authority elections has not even been considered. A handful of SLP candidates are - more or less autonomously - contesting local council seats.

Ever since September 11 2001 the split between the Scargillites and ultra-Stalinites has been on the cards. The latter - headed by Harpal Brar of the Stalin Society, but consisting also of various tiny remnants of 'third period' 'official communism' - actually welcomed the al Qa'eda attack on the World Trade Center, while Scargill and co condemned it.

However, at the October 2002 triennial congress, the Stalinites had a narrow majority among the 130 or so delegates and all but swept the board in the constituency section of the NEC elections. Through their control of the women's and youth section, Brar could nominate two more EC members and Scargill was only able to maintain his overall EC majority thanks to the 3,000 votes of a phantom 'affiliated trade union', the North West, Cheshire and Cumbria Miners Association, which 'elected' all the EC 'trade union section' reps to his orders.

To be honest, I am surprised it has taken Scargill so long to expel the Brarites. He seemed on the verge of doing so a year ago, after Brar himself (editor of Lalkar, formally the journal of the Indian Workers Association) circulated a document on education policy which, for some strange reason, displeased Scargill so much he issued dire threats. Equally mysteriously, the Great Leader pulled back from disciplinary action at that time.

Instead, the battleground shifted to the youth section and attempts to wrest control back from the Brarites. Scargill alleged that Carlos Rule was 'too old' at 27 to be the youth section representative on the EC, even though he had been elected to that post for a three-year period in 2002 and the previous occupant had only stood down at the age of 28. Comrade Rule's officership was declared "unconstitutional" (a term which Scargill uses interchangeably with 'not to my liking'), despite the fact that the constitution lays down no upper age limit for youth section membership.

Matters came to a head at the January 24 EC meeting. SLP president Paul Hardman declared that comrade Rule must leave the meeting - a demand which was met with a refusal, since the Brarites stated that he was an elected EC member who was perfectly entitled to be present. This resulted in comrades Hardman, Scargill and vice-president Linda Muir turning on their heels and abandoning the meeting.

The following day the five Brarites wrote a joint letter of complaint to Scargill, which they subsequently circulated in the party: "… what you and comrade Hardman did on Saturday January 24 was in the worst traditions of bureaucratic manoeuvring, manipulation and abuse of authority and in complete violation of the organisational principles of a proletarian party and the norms governing relations among comrades …

"We urge you, comrade Scargill, to give up the habit of treating those who disagree with you as your enemies. No proletarian party can be built by those who have been persuaded or intimidated into becoming servile flunkeys" (Letter to Scargill, January 25). Strong words indeed - especially from those who had previously been widely regarded as not much better than "servile flunkeys" themselves.

The very act of writing this letter, let alone circulating it internally, was regarded by Scargill as 'factionalism' and finally, on April 22, he wrote to the five demanding they agree to cease their "unconstitutional" behaviour, undertake never to circulate correspondence within the party again and declare in writing their acceptance of the "ideological position" of the SLP. Unsurprisingly, their joint reply was not considered satisfactory, especially as the Brarites threw the accusations back in the face of the three officers:

"Our experience is that the three of you periodically violate both the party constitution and congress decisions, that you treat the party constitution with utter contempt and shun the decisions of the party congress if you don't agree with them, or if they do not suit your temporary expediency, as the devil shuns holy water.

"… we have insisted, and continue to insist, that the SLP is no private property of yours, that it belongs to the entire membership, and no one is above the rules and decisions of the party. You cannot simply choose, as you often do, to abide by constitutional provisions for only so long as they suit you. You cannot continue to flout, as you often do, the decisions of our supreme body - the congress - when such decisions no longer suit you" (Letter, May 1).

Examples of Scargill's own unconstitutional behaviour were the barring of an elected EC member, the failure to hold a proper executive meeting for six months since November 2003 and his 'job swap' with Hardman, who was elected general secretary at the 2002 congress, while Scargill was president. For the second time since he founded the SLP in 1996, Scargill has simply exchanged positions with another officer and taken up a post for which he was not elected.

At the May 8 EC meeting Scargill attempted unsuccessfully to prevent the Brarites attending by ordering a group of young recruits to block their entry to the venue. However, despite failing to keep them out, he had enough hand-picked EC members present to vote through the expulsion - a decision taken after a 'hearing' which consisted solely of himself reading out a statement, the 'accused' being given no right to speak in their own defence.

Of course, the ultra-Stalinites are but the latest (and probably the last) strand of membership to fall foul of the SLP dictator. Scargill has driven out one opposition after another. Membership now consists of a couple of hundred mostly atomised, lethargic individuals, compared to over 2,000 in 1997. First, hundreds of communists and socialists of every shade, who had joined the SLP with real hope in the early days, either had their membership 'voided' or left in disillusionment. Next for the chop were former courtiers Patrick Sikorski and Brian Heron of the unlamented Fourth International Supporters Caucus (Fisc). They were replaced at the top by Roy Bull and his homophobic Economic and Philosophic Reviewfaction, which provoked a further exodus, including most of the remaining trade union leaders - Mick Rix, Bob Crow, Joe Marino, and a whole swathe of lower-ranking union activists. The Bullites were quickly booted out, leaving the way clear for comrade Brar and his followers.

All these factions - Fisc, EPSR and Stalinites - had one thing in common: they all, to a greater or lesser degree, were in their time Scargill sycophants, either helping him in the latest witch-hunt or, at the very least, not lifting a finger or uttering a word of protest when he turned on comrades who dared question him, including those previously favoured by the Great Leader.

The Brarites were no exception. They fully backed his expulsion of the Fiscites and acted as apologists for Scargill's anti-democratic manoeuvring. While today they sneeringly refer to the "fictitious battalions that Scargill claims to have as trade union affiliates", in 1997 they rushed to defend the use of the 3,000 block votes of the NWCCMA. It was as though Scargill could do no wrong.

Now it is a different story: "With a zeal worthy of a better cause, our opportunists in the SLP, led by Arthur Scargill, saturated through and through with the politics of trade unionism (ie, bourgeois politics), have been busy trying to rid the SLP of all serious theoretical thought and turn it into yet another outfit completely characterised by eclecticism and lack of principle" (Statement by expelled five to SLP members, undated). A bit late to notice it now, comrades.

Just over a year ago I wrote: "The Brarites are just about the only members of the party with any energy. Soon no-one will remain except Scargill himself … and it is only a matter of time before he falls out with himself and finds peace in oblivion" (Weekly Worker March 6 2003).

Will the last one out please turn off the light?