Todays meeting of the Campaign for a Democratic Socialist Labour Party (CDSLP) has been called to organise a struggle against the bureaucratic expulsions of both individual SLP members, and whole branches, by the leadership. No doubt the participants in this meeting sincerely want to build Socialist Labour into a genuinely democratic mass working-class party, open to revolutionary ideas.
There is certainly a need for a campaign to qualitatively improve the SLPs democratic functioning. Despite a reasonable showing as a new party in the General Election, the party has fallen short of the potential it could have built up over the last year and a half. Arthur Scargill has a justified reputation as by far the most principled and militant trade union official in Britain, but he and others in the SLP leadership have brought with them to the new party many of the bureaucratic methods and inability to suffer even constructive criticism characteristic of the trade union officialdom, and this has undoubtedly stunted the new partys potential.
However, the formation of the Campaign for a Democratic SLP, far from helping to regain this potential, is in practice making the struggle more difficult. It is not a serious approach to changing the structures and practices of the SLP, but is effectively a call to split and form another organisation.
How open is this campaign?
We need only look at the resolutions by comrade M proposed as the basis for the two main sessions today. First is the proposal to launch an open publication to campaign for democracy in the SLP and socialism in the working class movement. This is a call for a public campaign that distributes material critical of the Scargill leadership, not mainly to the SLP membership, but to the public at large. Hidden behind fine words like open and democracy is a position that is not calculated to build the strength of the SLP by fighting for more democracy, a better programme and better practice, but simply a general discussion of undefined socialism in the labour movement as a whole, combined with public attack on the practices of the SLP.
But this is just a resolution, it can be outvoted, surely? Well, no. The implication that this is the launch of the CDSLP is rather misleading. In fact, the CDSLP and various components of it have already published public documents; it even displays a logo on the internet! At a meeting called to defend the Vauxhall branch on 13 April it was decided to launch the (already existing) campaign, and a very similar resolution on a journal was agreed.
And whether this resolution passes or fails today, does anyone seriously expect that the minority will go along with the decision of the majority by participating, or not, in the production of this journal?
Democracy but no politics?
The second resolution on the proposed approach to the Socialist Labour congress in October makes things even more clear. The leadership of the CDSLP is proposing that no policy resolutions be submitted, and that all of our fire be concentrated on amending the constitution. Even then, it concentrates not on the need for an appeals procedure or for clearly defined rights to work as groupings advocating political ideas inside the party it focuses exclusively on an amendment which would allow other organisations to affiliate to the SLP.
This is a call for a public campaign that distributes material critical of the Scargill leadership, not mainly to the SLP membership, but to the public at large.
The prohibition on dual membership of other organisations (which is in any case very unevenly enforced) is certainly one aspect of the SLP constitution which needs changing. But the concentration on this above all else raises strong doubts about whether the CDSLP is serious about trying to change the rules and policies of the party
We fight for a genuinely democratic SLP because we believe it has the potential to lead to a mass revolutionary party of the British working class. To achieve this we need an organisational framework in which political struggle can take place. We will achieve this only by taking part in the political debate that already exists, such as the October congress. But the CDSLP is advocating that party members censor themselves and do not take up this opportunity to move resolutions on questions of policy!
Rotten bloc with Blair supporters
One of the main sponsors of this meeting is the group of SLP members who publish the journal Socialist Labour Action. This grouping has recently achieved some notoriety in the party, since one of its leading spokespersons made a declaration of public sympathy for Workers Power, an organisation which is so hostile to the very existence of the SLP that they supported Blairs pink-tinged one-nation Mark II Tory party against our candidates in the general election, and even put out a leaflet urging support to ex-Tory Alan Howarth against Arthur Scargill in Newport!
Yet these people claim to want to democratise the SLP? In reality, it is perfectly obvious from their behaviour in the general election that their aim is to publicly discredit the party itself. Many SLP members, however discontented they may be at the partys bureaucratic deformations, would not touch a campaign led by people like this with a ten-foot-pole. And rightly so!
Then there are the Revolutionary Platform comrades. Unlike Socialist Labour Action, most of this grouping has been, in a subjective sense, generally supportive of the SLP from the beginning. Yet their methods of supposedly fighting the flaws in the Party can only play into the hands of the worst bureaucratic elements. While they do not share SLAs pro-Labour treachery, in practice there has been little difference in their behaviour. They make it a point of principle to attack the SLP in public.
Others in the party want a campaign that has some chance of changing and building the Socialist Labour Party, which retains enormous socialist potential.
Again it was the general election which revealed their disregard for the party and its members, with their support for Stan Keables campaign in the Brent East constituency. After defying a democratic decision of West London comrades not to contest this seat, Keable stood in the name of the SLP on a programme that was openly proclaimed to be a revolutionary alternative to the SLP national programme. This without any SLP member, except a handful in Brent East, having had, even indirectly, any say whatsoever in the programme Keable stood on! This kind of sectarian posturing can only play into the hands of bureaucratic forces in the SLP and undermine the potential for democracy.
Those who support the Revolutionary Platform have very seldom claimed this affiliation in party meeting or put forward their positions in documents circulated within the party. Instead there has been a regular supply of detailed, though frequently inaccurate, reports of SLP internal meetings to the CPGBs Weekly Worker, a publication sold on the streets and in bookshops, which are written by party members using pseudonyms. These leaks, far from representing some sort of principled programme of openness, are in reality a violation of the democratic right of SLP members to a non-public internal life.
Meanwhile the comrades publishing the SLP Marxist Bulletin, who have openly signed their names to an internal publication arguing for political ideas inside the party, are denounced as rejecting openness by writers in the Weekly Worker.
If these comrades want to run campaigns or journals external to the party or to focus their congress participation on one part of the constitution and not on policy, then that is their choice. But they should not expect other party members to see this as the campaign to democratise the party. Others in the party want a campaign and a strategy that has some chance of changing and building the Socialist Labour Party, which retains enormous socialist potential.
A campaign with a chance
Supporters of the Marxist Bulletin are endorsing the Statement to the NEC and SLP Members on the question of Party Democracy, which has been signed by several branches and a number of individual party members, and is seeking more endorsements. An internal campaign around this statement is our best opportunity so far to actually bring about changes in the party in favour of greater democracy.
The statement ends by calling for the following:
These are elementary democratic points, which we believe the majority of the party membership will support. But most party members, quite rightly, will have no time for a campaign like the CDSLP whose initiators are, at best, sectarian and, at worse, stand in clear opposition to the party.
We urge all those who want a genuine and credible campaign for democracy in the SLP to endorse and circulate this statement, and to prepare for a full exchange of views on all aspects of party organisation and policy at the congress in October.
Published 14 June 1997 by SLP Marxist Bulletin, BCM Box 4771, London WC1N 3XX