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Socialist Labour Party at the crossroads

Communist Party of Great Britain

Weekly Worker

December 11 1997

SLP at the crossroads

Some have been very quick to write obituaries for the Socialist Labour Party. Too quick, says Mark Fischer

The Socialist Labour Party has an important congress in London this weekend. Yet many of the delegates who gather from around the country for this meeting have lost much of the initial fire generated by the launch of the party in 1996.

Since then, the SLP – and leading figures within it – have undergone a strange evolution.

Organised factions of bizarre pro-Stalin sects have been tolerated. Honest members have found themselves accused without proof of membership of other organisations and summarily ‘voided’ from the party. Others have been excluded from membership without warning for falling behind with their dues.

The SLP seemed to hold out the promise of overcoming the sectarian schisms that plague the left. Yet Scargill and his coterie have tried to block all attempts to cooperate with other left organisations, even to the point of launching harmful and divisive rival election campaigns against left organisations with real local support in working class communities. The party leadership’s antics in this field have been viewed by many as sectarian provocation.

Despite the claims of the leadership, the SLP continues to exclude the membership from the active discussion and formulation of party policies and constitution in a manner so characteristic of the Labour Party. In effect, ordinary members are given little or no chance to shape their organisation, to democratically determine its form and nature.

Unsurprisingly, membership of the party has stagnated and around the country there are pockets of deep demoralisation within its ranks. Through bureaucratic inertia and a refusal to countenance a genuine democratic, non-sectarian approach, the SLP has squandered its initial opportunities to make a real impact on British working class politics and on wider society. Surveying the problems besetting the still relatively new party, many on the left have been quick to write their obituaries of Scargill’s organisation.

Despite the bureaucratic shenanigans, the intrigue, the contempt for democracy and the increasingly eccentric public persona of the party, the SLP still has a chance.

In politics it is important not to project the conclusions that you and your organisation may have made onto wider sections of society. This is simply leftist impatience. Many SLP militants will never look at Scargill again in the same light, given his less than glittering record in the party. However, his name remains synonymous with intransigent militancy for millions of other workers.

While this remains true, any talk of prematurely bailing out of the SLP by sections of its left, any nonsense that the SLP is “dead”, must be vigorously opposed.

The left of the party has a special responsibility in this. It is this section that has the potential to shape the SLP as a party worthy of our class, to win the battle for democracy in its ranks.

The Communist Party will continue to do everything in its power to aid this section of the organisation. However, we do not do this out of some philanthropic impulse to help those being hard done by. We are revolutionaries, not charity-mongers. We are clear that what we are fighting for is not a democratic SLP as an end in itself. We will work alongside others to defeat the right wing of Scargill’s organisation precisely because we believe that democracy in such a potentially important working class organisation is indispensable in the fight for what is truly necessary for our class – a reforged Communist Party.

This is the type of combat organisation our class needs. This is what comrades on the left of the SLP – alongside the fight for democracy – must address themselves to

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