Congress is finally here. After two unconstitutional postponements from the leadership, from May and then October, SLP members have the opportunity to debate a limited number of issues for the year ahead.
This congress will be a watershed in our party’s development. In the first conference in May 1996, everything was up for grabs: the nature of the SLP was not fully defined, the situation very fluid.
Eighteen months later, the situation has crystallised to a much greater degree. We have contested a general election; sections of the leadership have conducted a haphazard witch hunt against revolutionaries and democrats in the party; the homophobes of the Economic and Philosophic Science Review are defended by Scargill; followers of the Stalin Society such as Harpal Brar appear to be favoured.
So, as well as challenging Labour – while most of the left cravenly called for a Blair government – our SLP has also defined itself negatively. This trend seems set to continue at congress.
However, the outcome is by no means a certainty. While many on the left glibly dismiss the SLP as a ‘neo-Stalinist sect’, there are still many forces at play in the organisation. The leadership is far from united. While the SLP does not contain the healthy features of a real workers’ party – the organised advanced section of the class – it is yet to fully degenerate into a sect.
Yet this congress could cement the SLP as ‘Scargill’s Labour Party’ – a further confirmation of its Bonapartist character. Only he is capable of bureaucratically ‘uniting’ forces as disparate as leading Liverpool dockers, the Stalin Society, Fourth International supporters (Fiscites), and the stranger than fiction Economic and Philosophic Science Review.
The early promise of the SLP is being squandered. The possibility of a positive realignment of the British left within the ranks of the SLP seems quite remote now. While the overwhelming responsibility for this failure lies with the leadership, the left and democratic forces in the SLP are not completely blameless. Disunity of these potentially pro-party forces must bear some of the burden.
First, those who wrote off the SLP before it began. If they had been there on May 4 1996, the outcome of that first conference would have been vastly different. These comrades, such as the Workers Power group, approached the SLP not as revolutionary practitioners, but more as red professors, categorising this and that phenomenon to neatly fit into their preordained world view. They had no concept of shaping the outcome; merely of observing and pigeon-holing. With their active participation, revolutionaries and democrats would have very likely had a majority on the first national executive committee.
Then there is the clever-clever ‘tactical’ left. These comrades adopted a method of ‘heads down’ in the face of the witch hunt. Rather than viewing the SLP as their party, they submitted to the censor already in their head, accepting that they were joining the ‘Scargill Labour Party’, not the party of the whole working class. These comrades, instead of adopting a militant defence of party democracy, tended to view the SLP as a ‘last chance saloon’.
Then there is the sectarian left. The approach of the Marxist Bulletin is almost chemically pure sectarianism. These comrades, most of whom are former members of the International Bolshevik Tendency, exhibit the moronic petty sect attitude of the IBT’s parent body, the Spartacist League. The Marxist Bulletin‘s self-serving approach to their whole intervention in the SLP flip-flops from puerile examples of what they consider “principled clarity” to the ultra-opportunism of ‘picketing’ a conference organised by the Campaign for a Democratic SLP. Describing the CDSLP as an “anti-SLP lash-up”, they stood side by side with NEC members who made hollow threats of expulsion against those in attendance.
For a brief moment, their self-serving strategy seemed to put them in a strong position to gain political hegemony over the left of the SLP. But, as we see from the letter published here (see ‘Disunity blunts left challenge’), they cannot even bring themselves to stand joint candidates on a minimal platform with full freedom for their NEC candidates to publish their separate political programme.
Despite this, these comrades are hard working and, within the self-imposed limits of their own dogma, committed to a revolutionary transformation of society. Taking into account the weaknesses of all the other candidates for vice president, their candidate, Alan Gibson, should certainly be supported. I will be voting for him.
The CDSLP made some mistakes. Otherwise, its project of uniting the SLP members around a militant struggle for party democracy would have met with more success. But of all the strategic positions, it alone stood for partyism. It stood for the widest unity in defeating the witch hunt, and it pointed out all along that the witch hunt was not about the CPGB, but was directed against the rights of the whole party – a united and militant response was needed.
Now some of those forces critical of the CDSLP are talking of decamping – the very forces who accused the CDSLP itself of wanting to provoke a split. The CDSLP still holds that there is everything to fight for in the SLP. It is not as if there are lush green pastures elsewhere. The SLP remains the most significant break from Labour for over a generation. Just because it does not come up to the ideals of this or that individual as to what a party of ‘left realignment’ should be, this is no reason to walk away. Such is the reality of the period and such is the reality of the British left.
The SLP underlines the bankruptcy of the perspective that the class must go through a stage of a centrist ‘party of recomposition’. These parties, whether the PDS in Germany (see ‘PDS: Germany’s SLP?’) or Communist Refoundation in Italy, are the outcome of profound defeat. Yet they are important developments that must be positively engaged with – this includes the SLP, which occupies a similar political space. Fisc at least understands that much. In its present form it can be described as the unfortunate, but (given the period) understandable, offspring of the crisis of social democracy.
Marxist Bulletin and Republican Platform
The correspondence I have managed to get hold of reflects the problem of disunity among the left of the SLP (see ‘Disunity blunts left challenge’). It seems as though the Marxist Bulletin has refused to accept the majority left position. To my mind, the Republicans and their allies are being quite principled, seeking a written minimal platform on which to stand a slate for the NEC. The majority seem to be quite happy for minorities on such a slate to put forward their own separate propaganda. The SLP Republicans seem to hit the nail on the head in pointing out a deliberate sectarian fudge on behalf of the Marxist Bulletin.
I remember speaking to a former member of the IBT who expressed the miserable perspective of emerging from the SLP with 30 or so members. These comrades are only interested in preserving their hermetically sealed ideology.
A militant united bloc is still possible. Such a bloc, as well as fighting for change within the SLP, must point to what is needed. It must be a microcosm of the sort of party culture that is necessary. Yet too many comrades seem to fear the openness required to win such change. Openness is not a technical matter. Neither is it a toy. It must become an accepted principle and collective weapon for the whole working class.
Motions to congress
To finish, I will pass a brief comment on some motions which will most likely be considered by congress.
Motion 6 is a constitutional amendment which aims to introduce a control commission into the party’s as yet non-existent disciplinary process. It deserves guarded support. Such motions will not change the anti-democratic culture which is developing in the SLP, but can provide an opportunity to struggle for such a sea-change in the party. The two amendments to the motion have the same intent – to allow for final appeal to congress on any disciplinary charge. What is missing from these amendments is the necessity of presenting disciplinary charges in writing, with details of proceedings available to the party as a whole.
Motion 13 is the first on the agenda which deals with party policy. It calls for a public sector alliance to fight the Labour government’s continuing privatisation. The motion, from Swindon South CSLP, calls for a campaign to break the ‘Tory spending limits’.
I can see no reason to oppose this motion, despite its weakness. Typically economistic, it fails to envisage a campaign against the government which is fully political. While Blair’s continued offensive against our class means cuts in jobs and services (the attack on single parents being just the latest), a campaign which merely reacts defensively to these attacks cannot provide a full answer. It fails to demonstrate to militant workers that the answer lies in their own hands. While the motion risks turning workers back towards depending on Labour to end ‘Tory’ spending limits, it is sufficiently open-ended to warrant support. The real point is that they are no longer Tory spending limits, but Labour spending limits.
Motion 20 is from the national women’s section. It is a long and relatively detailed policy document which has Carolyn Sikorski and Bridget Bell stamped all over it. Its intent is laudable enough, yet its main failing is its sectionalism. It is in danger of ‘ghettoising’ the struggle for women’s liberation, sealing it off in the women’s section. There is a danger that male members will vote for this motion as a means of evading their collective responsibility alongside female comrades in the struggle for liberation of women.
The motion calls for the establishment of a women’s tribunal for which it sets the task of assembling a comprehensive report “from women around the country on the situation facing women today”. Yet, rather than setting this task for the party as a whole, it underlines this tendency to compartmentalise ‘women’s issues’: “The national women’s section will: (1) do all the work necessary for the success of the women’s tribunal”.
This is the motion’s central weakness. The remainder includes the necessity of developing a culture which gives full access to party committees and party life for all members. Yet it then relies on the imperialist-dominated United Nations as a guideline for measures to protect children.
Amendment B comes from Hazel Grove, a CSLP dominated by the EPSR. It correctly calls for removal of all references to the UN convention on the rights of the child. Yet it also has a hopelessly economistic misunderstanding of the power relationship between men and women. The basis of this power inequality is not ‘capitalism’, but class society. The amendment would have the motion refer to women facing “inequality in terms of wealth and power to some men in comparable positions under the capitalist system”. Knowing the view of these comrades that countries such as North Korea are socialist, I detect the implication that gender relationships there are equitable.
However, despite these weaknesses this amendment ought to be supported, as it calls for the women’s tribunal to be the business of the party as a whole. Winning this change to the women’s section motion provides the best conditions for destroying the backward ideas expressed elsewhere in the amendment and will make such a central issue as women’s liberation the concern of all party members, not of women comrades alone.
Motions 26 and 28 deal with international issues. I am not sure if we will get that far down the agenda. But a few comments are in order.
Motion 26 concerns Cuba. This motion should be supported. Although I do not agree with the uncritical support which the Cuban Solidarity Campaign gives to the Castro government, the strength of the motion lies in its identification of Labourite British imperialism as the enemy of Cuba. It goes further than simple Yanqui bashing.
Motion 28 concerns the Kurdish struggle. It should be supported along with the amendment from Hampstead & Highgate CSLP. The amendment correctly identifies Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Kurdish feudal warlords as part of the problem. It also removes the liberal call to boycott tourism to Turkey, and strengthens the intent of the Colne Valley CSLP in supporting the right of the Kurdish people to self-determination. The amendment also removes reference to ‘Kurdistan’ as a national entity.
Next week I will report on the congress. I wish comrades a successful and productive weekend.