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Scargillís Socialist Labour Party

Ian Driver

FOR THOSE of us seeking the Holy Grail of a socialist alternative to New Labour, December will be a setback. Because this is the time a false Messiah will sacrifice hundreds of committed socialists on the altar of his egotistical authoritarianism. I refer of course to the second congress of Arthur Scargillís Socialist Labour Party (SLP) which will be held at Conway Hall in London on 13-14 December.

How different things were eighteen months ago! I recall with sadness the soaring expectations of those of us who gathered at the first congress of the SLP in May 1996. Having recently resigned from the Labour Party and renounced the Southwark Council Labour Group whip, I was filled with an almost spiritual conviction that here was a unique opportunity to construct a viable, broad-based, democratic socialist organisation that could launch an effective challenge against the neo-liberal consensus. I wasnít alone in this view. I spoke with scores of trade unionists, community activists, eco-warriors, anti-racists, ex-Labour Party members and ex-members of a thousand and one left-wing grouplets. For a brief moment in time it appeared that Scargill had succeeded in breaking down the lines of demarcation and enmity that had divided the left for years, and created a new point of focus for radical politics in this country. But like all good things my elation came to an end when I began to realise that Arthur Scargillís concept of democratic socialism was somewhat different from mine.

Having cut my political teeth in the early í80s Bennite struggle to democratise the Labour Party, socialism without democracy and accountability means nothing to me. Indeed, apart from obvious political differences, the main reason I left New Labour to join Scargill was the growing centralisation of power in the hands of unaccountable bureaucrats and spin doctors and the exclusion of rank-and-file party members from the policy making process. It took a while to recognise, but quitting New Labour for the SLP was the political equivalent of the frying pan into the fire.

The constitution of the SLP and many of its key policies were imposed upon the membership without any discussion or vote. The structure of the party and its organs were decided without any form of consultation with members. Election candidates were forced on party branches against their wishes and sometimes without their knowledge. Alliances with non-SLP socialists were expressly forbidden by Scargill, without any debate, often leading to the SLP splitting the left-wing vote in elections. A number of members complained that articles they had submitted to the partyís paper Socialist News had been rewritten and edited without their permission, to remove political content with which Scargill disagreed.

Early on a number of us decided to work together to try and turn things around. We established a network of contacts across the country and met on a regular basis to discuss democratic changes to the SLP constitution and policies. When Scargill learned about this, he "went galactic". Those of us who were fingered received abusive missives from the Barnsley Bunker informing us, in an Alice-in-Wonderland use of logic, that it was unconstitutional to work together to change a constitution that had not been voted on in the first place, and that to persist in this course of action would result in disciplinary action being taken against us, even though the party had no disciplinary code! When opposition to Scargill began to spread, perceived "troublemakers" were expelled from the party without the right of appeal or the chance to see the evidence against them. A number of party branches were unilaterally closed down for having the audacity to disagree with Scargill.

To back up their bureaucratic manoeuvres, the Scargill leadership were not averse to indulging in smear, intimidation and violence. As an "out" bisexual, I was subject to a vitriolic whispering campaign by London Scargillites to the effect that I was a "paedophiliac nonce". Another group of Scargillites openly distributed a rabidly homophobic broadsheet which implicitly suggested a "final solution" for lesbians and gays, come the revolution. Meetings where opposition views or even mild disagreements were expressed were disrupted in an outrageous and intimidatory manner by Scargillites, and on two occasions I witnessed actual physical assaults upon people expressing a difference with the Scargill line. I and a number of other members wrote letters of complaint to Scargill about these unhealthy practices, but absolutely nothing was done. In the end, I decided enough was enough. I was no longer prepared to put energy into an organisation that was rapidly becoming morally and politically corrupt. In October I sent in my letter of resignation to Scargill.

A number of my friends still remain in the SLP in the hope that they can rescue the party from Scargillís totalitarian grip and transform it into the type of organisation we originally hoped for. I admire their courage and wish them luck, but in reality they are on a hiding to nothing. Virtually all the motions to the SLP congress calling for the democratisation of the party constitution have been ruled out of order on spurious grounds. Efforts have been made to gerrymander the congress by excluding leading democracy campaigners, and a number of Scargill critics standing for leading party posts have been warned that they may be debarred from standing.

Despite my experiences in the SLP and my criticisms of its internal regime, I refuse to join the chorus of those on the left who smugly say "I told you so" or "the SLP was premature". I am still 100 per cent convinced that Scargill was correct to call for a break with New Labour and the establishment of a socialist alternative. The only real difference between Scargill and myself is over the form this alternative will take. Socialism for me is all about freedom, equality and full participation. Socialism for Scargill is a perverse "back to the future" effort to revive the corpse of totalitarian Stalinism.

When the SLP democrats are defeated at the congress, as they surely will be, when disaffection begins to grow within the New Labour left, and when community activists, anti-racists, environmentalists and trade unionists begin to realise that New Labour will not deliver, then the component parts of the real and genuine socialist alternative will be in place. Some of us are already working to establish links with people who wish to see the creation of a broad-based democratic socialist movement that will challenge poverty, inequality and injustice. Scargill and the rest of the self-appointed dictatorial gurus of the left have had their day. Democratic socialism is breathing down their necks!