The Socialist Labour Party: From Opportunity to Obstacle
THE DECEMBER conference of the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) was the culmination of a good deal of effort by the leadership of the party, centred around Arthur Scargill, to destroy the revolutionary potential that this highly contradictory left wing split from Labour showed in its early months. For in early 1996, when Scargill called for the formation of a new working class party, many of the best militants of the British workers’ movement rallied to the new banner he raised. Despite the fact that Scargill’s own left reformist programme clearly was likely to have a major influence over the direction of the new party, in fact it attracted elements from virtually every political tradition on the left. The early months of the SLP were a period of intense political ferment and discussion among comrades of many and varied political backgrounds – not only that, but the party had, by virtue mainly of Scargill’s fame and reputation in the working class, an easy means of addressing broader layers of workers.
The formation of the SLP was a reflection of the broader crisis of social democracy. In the last two decades, gains that were reluctantly conceded to the workers’ movement in the aftermath of the Second World War have been under concerted and ruthless attack. Gone are the days when the ruling classes in the West were forced to dig into their pockets to provide workers with some semblance of social reform in order to buy some insurance against the working class going over to "Communism" and relieving the capitalists of their property and power. Now the bosses see little danger of that from the working class, and consequently are dismantling all these social gains. Social democracy, which in the post-war period gained a certain renewed credibility from its apparent ability to "deliver the goods", now finds the ground has been cut right from under its feet, as the bosses insist that the destruction of working class gains are indispensable to the well-being of the capitalist system itself. For social democracy, its ability to deliver any sort of reforms for the working class has always been conditional on the "well-being" of capitalism, a social system that it supports to the end, and on the willingness of the bosses to make concessions.
Out of this contradiction a new breed of bourgeois politician is growing – the most obvious example being Tony Blair himself, who has not missed an opportunity to praise the bosses’ most strident champions, the likes of Thatcher and Reagan. Blair also has repeatedly stated that he regrets that the party he leads was ever formed in the first place – he regrets the "split" in "radicalism" at the turn of the century that cleaved the working class movement away from the bourgeois Liberal Party. The Blair government’s continuation of Thatcher’s attacks on those measures of social reform that were meant to "humanise" capitalism in the post-war period, from free higher education to universal benefits, constitutes the negative, reactionary solution to reformism’s dilemma. For Blair’s aim, quite transparently, is to sever Labour’s links with the working class completely and transform this bourgeois workers’ party into an outright, straightforward capitalist party.
The job of Marxists is not to try to salvage reformism, as so many of the centrists and left reformists who make up the British "far left" are doing, trying to save the union link to a party that stands for maintaining Thatcher’s anti-working class repressive laws. The task of Marxists in this period is to seek to split working people away from it, and to build an alternative to it. The crisis of reformism has led to the beginning of a process of working class forces splintering away from the traitorous Labour Party (LP). The comrades who make up the tendency I represent, a grouping of revolutionary Trotskyists which publishes the Marxist Bulletin (initiated by former members and current co-thinkers of the International Bolshevik Tendency – IBT), joined the SLP at its foundation. We sought to intersect this opportunity to work with those who split away from Labour in a pro-working class direction, despite their flaws and often crippling illusions in old-style Labourism, to build a real alternative to Labour and increase the influence of our revolutionary, Marxist programme.
For the SLP was a reaction against the bourgeoisification of the Labour Party, against the formal removal from the Labour Party constitution of Clause IV, the LP’s pretence to stand for an alternative to capitalism. Because of this, it became for a while something of an attractive organisation to many militants. Indeed, Scargill was so afraid of the people he was likely to attract to his new party that, by means of bureaucratic manoeuvring and deals with his early collaborators, he imposed a constitution that sought to atomise the membership into tiny branches based on parliamentary constituencies, and also gave the leadership of the party virtually unlimited power (in theory at least) to exclude individuals and groupings that it did not like. Scargill initially had talks with Militant’s leadership about forming the new party, but, fearing their organised presence would undermine his authority, his ultimata to them to give up their organisational base led to the discussions breaking up.
Thus the SLP was an organisation with a central political contradiction right from the start, and, connected to that, with an organisational contradiction as well, which was ultimately to lead to the débâcle of the conference in December. The political contradiction was that, in response to Blair’s dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, resolving reformism’s fundamental dilemma by abandoning reform and openly announcing the Labour leadership’s enmity to the organised working class, Scargill resolved to defend ... old style reformism. The fact that Scargill was probably the social democratic figure with the most left, militant reputation in the whole Western world just served to exacerbate the contradiction. Scargill’s pedigree – his militant leadership of the 1984-5 miners’ strike, his denunciation of the anti-Soviet war drive during the Cold War, his opposition to the pro-capitalist Polish Solidarity movement, and his defence of Castro’s Cuba (and support of its "radical" Stalinist leadership) – all gave the new party a very radical and left wing aura. A whole layer of people who really wanted to smash capitalism joined his organisation. And the contradiction between a considerable number of subjective revolutionaries (as well as a middle ground of honest, quite subjectively left wing militants of reformist background, open to revolutionary ideas and willing to collaborate politically with ostensible revolutionaries), in a party whose leadership basically aspired to build a bureaucratically-run reformist replacement for the Labour Party, led to an often explosive and sometimes quite brutal internal life.
For the SLP also attracted another layer, of cranks, rejects and failures of various descriptions from a number of areas, who aspired to rebuild their failed political careers as part of a new bureaucracy. Reactionary Stalinist nutters such as Royston Bull’s Economic and Philosophic Science Review were defended in writing by Scargill, despite the fact that last summer they published material calling for discrimination against gays – which is flatly counterposed to the SLP’s statement of its political aims (Clause IV). The Stalin Society, a bunch of bizarre Stalinist cultists of mainly Maoist origin, were allowed to operate openly in the party and engage in 1930s-style baiting of those who came from a non-Stalinist Marxist tradition. Scargill, allegedly the principled defender of the USSR, thus found himself in an unholy alliance against "ultra-left" SLP members with crazed Mao/Stalin worshippers who had often been at best in the anti-Soviet camp over Afghanistan, and in some cases had supported NATO in the 1970s and ’80s in the name of the Chinese Stalinist regime’s military alliances against "Soviet social-imperialism".
Nor did all the worst elements come from the Stalinist tradition. In one notorious case in South London, Tony and Ann Goss, a couple of ex-Southwark borough councillors who had eight years earlier been expelled from the Labour Party, gained prominent positions in the London SLP with the blessing of the leadership. Their expulsion from the LP was not particularly for left wing views (though they had "left" pretensions at times), but for corruption and extreme violence against other members of the Labour Party, including people on the left. After being expelled from the Labour Party, these individuals had stood in elections against the LP, attacking it not for its betrayals of the working class, but from a reactionary, racist and bigoted standpoint, accusing the LP of being soft on gays and gypsies. In an attempt to get re-elected to the council after being expelled from the LP, they acted as publicists for a hate campaign against a local gypsy site which included an attempt to contaminate the site with dangerous asbestos waste – a blatant, potentially deadly racist attack. The electorate thankfully rejected them. But years later, they were to attempt to re-launch their careers in the SLP, a new party where few initially knew their history. In a conflict that blew up in South London over their attempt to dominate a regional branch that contained many subjectively revolutionary people, Arthur Scargill besmirched his reputation by backing these vile, reactionary elements against the bulk of members even when they resorted to the same violent, homophobic antics in the SLP.1
It was basically this kind of confrontation that dominated the SLP over the period after the founding Congress in May 1996. From the first national policy meeting on 2 March 1996 to the founding Congress, and at the Congress itself, there was considerable political discussion on many subjects, and indeed, in many ways, the party was seething with political discussion. The policy papers were drawn up initially at the founding policy meeting in workshops to which all party members were welcome, and were refined in follow up workshops, before being circulated to the party’s branches nationally for discussion and amendment. The branches that discussed and proposed amendments to these papers were largish formations that often organised several dozens of members each. That is, they were viable political units that had the weight to potentially challenge the party leadership on those issues where the membership felt particularly strongly.
Two notable examples of this were very visible at the founding Congress: the fact that the mealy-mouthed policy paper on Ireland, which failed to call for the immediate withdrawal of British troops from the Six Counties, was amended by the conference to call for Troops Out Now, with the leadership reluctantly forced to accept it, having realised that the Congress mood was such that they would lose if they stuck to their original position. And the question of immigration controls, where the closest vote of the Congress saw the leadership narrowly defeat an attempt to overturn the leadership’s classically left-reformist position of support for "non-racist" immigration controls under a "left" parliamentary bourgeois regime. The first position was a pretty important rupture with traditional social democratic chauvinism over Ireland; the second narrowly failed to remove another element of "left"-reformist nationalism from the SLP’s programme.
Scargill was not about to allow "his" party to be won to even elements of a revolutionary perspective – the strategy of the SLP leadership was to win over disaffected trade union bureaucrats and parliamentary careerists to a new party centred on such people, not to build a revolutionary workers’ party. However, as things stood in 1996 after the founding conference, the only way the party could be "stabilised" politically was by a war against the subjectively revolutionary elements in the membership. The problem for Scargill was that the kind of bureaucratic measures necessary for such a war against the "far left" would also alienate many of the middle layers of the party, many of whom had been through or witnessed anti-left witch-hunts in the Labour Party, and therefore risked destroying the party itself.
The leadership had the ability to use the exclusion clauses in the constitution to get rid of a few individuals who it could identify as being particularly troublesome. But the problem was that the SLP leadership had called upon "all socialists and communists" to join their organisation, while at the same time demanding that such individuals leave their own political views and allegiances behind them before they did so. A ridiculous idea and impossible to enforce, the leadership as a result spent the next period fighting dangers it could only fuzzily perceive, since it did not really know enough about the supposedly "ultra-left" elements who had joined the party. As a result, the leadership became even more frenzied, paranoid and irrational, a product of its stupid attempts to control a highly political membership by bureaucratic fiat. Anyone who has read any of Scargill’s many strident, bullying letters to various party members threatening and quizzing those he suspected of holding "ultra-left" political views can get a flavour of the fear and hysteria that pervaded the SLP leadership, the consequence of which was the bizarre débâcle in December 1997.
The fact that the SLP was riven and contradictory, and even at times a frightening organisation to be involved in, should not blind us to its potential at the time of its foundation. Nor should it blind us to the significance of the fact that it was ever formed at all. In an earlier article in this magazine co-written with another SLP comrade, polemicising against the magazine’s editor as an archetypal example of those on the British left whose Labour-loyalism was so deep as to condemn outright the SLP’s formation, the two of us wrote that the SLP "represents a reassertion by part of the trade union officialdom supported by a layer of militant workers, of the need for the working class to have its own independent class party, against a Labour Party whose character as a party of the working class is being systematically done away with".2 We see no reason to change this assessment, nor our criticism of those leftists who chose to attack the SLP on behalf of loyalty to New Labour: "the rightist grumbling of various British centrists and left reformists against the formation of the SLP, regretting that it was ever formed at all, show that they are isolated from some of the most advanced sections of the working class, and that at least on this important question they are far more politically backward than the forces that have gone to make up the SLP."3
In fact, the Labour-loyalism of some of the left seems to know no bounds – we see in this country ostensibly Trotskyist organisations that are still calling for votes to Blair’s Labour Party in by-elections (and doubtless in the coming May council elections) even when in power it is carrying on where Margaret Thatcher and John Major left off, and indeed sometimes going where they feared to tread (in terms of university tuition fees, for instance).
In fact, what the comrades who went on to found the Marxist Bulletin were doing in our work in the SLP was basic Trotskyism, an attempt to carry out revolutionary work among the most politically advanced, conscious layers of the working class, those attracted by the first left wing political split from the LP with a potential mass character since the 1930s. Of course, we knew there was a real possibility of the SLP being shipwrecked by the incapacity and unwillingness of its founders to lead a real break from Labourite betrayal.
As we stated then: "In political life there can be no guarantees. It is of course possible that bureaucratic manoeuvres or political purges could turn the SLP into a lifeless shell and wreck the whole project. It is also conceivable that even with the most exemplary leadership and the most vigorous and active membership the SLP will still not be able to establish itself as a viable player in national politics in the near future. It is impossible to know unless we try. But the possibility exists that the SLP will develop a sufficiently hard-hitting set of politics and be able to project them effectively enough to attract thousands of working-class youth and union militants disgusted by Blair & Co. And if the SLP retains a sufficiently open and democratic internal regime it could educate and politically develop this new layer into socialist activists and organisers who are able to reach tens of thousands of others. The shipwreck of the SLP would be a defeat for the working class, something that revolutionaries ... seek to struggle against. The SLP is an important and worthwhile initiative that revolutionaries should participate in and seek to build."4
I see no reason to regret this statement, just because Scargill & Co have reverted to type as "left" bureaucrats and caused the shipwreck of the SLP project. The splintering of the Labour Party, caused by Blair’s attacks and attempts to break with its working class base, is continuing. The exit of a possibly substantial number of Labour MEPs from the party is another sign of the contradictory pressures on those Labourites who still have some connection to the politically advanced sections of the working class – any real resistance in this period leads very quickly out of the Labour Party. This splintering of "Old Labour" types from the party is basically the same phenomenon that led to the formation of the SLP before the election – its social basis is the enormous bitterness of those advanced layers of the class who have been abandoned by Blair. The fact that the SLP is no longer a viable vehicle for the building of a genuine working class alternative to Blair does not mean that it is no longer necessary to struggle for such an alternative, and for revolutionary Marxists to struggle alongside those, even though they may be left reformists, who seek to stand against New Labour in elections. We believe that the only way a genuine working class alternative is likely to be built in current political conditions is through political struggle to win new adherents to the programme of genuine Marxism from among the most advanced layers. A crucial part of such struggle involves united front-type activity with those breaking with Labour, in order to expand the respect and influence of a genuine revolutionary programme among these layers.
For above all it is for our Trotskyist programme that the supporters of the Marxist Bulletin became known in the SLP. So much so that even people quite distant from and opposed to our politics, such as Dave Craig, a leader of the Revolutionary Democratic Group – an openly Menshevik, "two-stage-revolution" type, constitutional reformist split from the SWP (which was also heavily involved in the SLP) – had to write of us that: "Now the Marxist Bulletin have emerged as the main voice of the Trotskyist left [in the SLP]. Some comrades objected to placing the Marxist Bulletin on the left. They were hostile to the CPGB and opposed the Campaign for a Democratic SLP. But comrades must not let their emotions cloud their political judgement. We must start our analysis from the Marxist Bulletin’s programmatic positions, rather than their opportunist or sectarian manoeuverings."5
The interventions of other leftists in the SLP offered, on the contrary, a case in point in how not to intersect such a potentially promising leftward development out of the ranks of the Labour Party. Two particularly notable cases of this were the interventions of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) tendency, publishers of the Weekly Worker, a politically fluid left-centrist current whose origins are in Stalinism, and of Workers Power, who initiated through a number of their supporters a current within the SLP around the journal Socialist Labour Action.
Both these organisations, for different motives, shouted long and loud about their campaigns to "democratise" the SLP, while in practice behaving in a stupid and politically counterproductive manner that only played into the hands of the SLP leadership and helped Scargill to portray oppositionists as hostile to the SLP project itself. The Workers Power grouping, though on occasions it vacillated under the impact of events where the SLP looked better than their "predictions", was basically hostile to the SLP project itself pretty much from the start. Like comrade Pitt, they advocated continued support to Blair’s Labour Party against the SLP in the General Election. However, unlike comrade Pitt and other principled leftist opponents of the SLP project, they decided to send people in to "intervene" anyway. Therefore their "intervention" in the SLP could only be of seeking to wreck it on behalf of the Labour Party. Not surprisingly, they made a "principle" of attacking Scargill’s unquestionable abuses and atrocities in public, taking no account of the organisational loyalty of those SLP members who joined it because they saw something positive in the SLP project in itself, among whom the Marxist Bulletin comrades number themselves. Predictably, when pro-party oppositionists such as ourselves and others dissociated themselves from such antics as the disruption of the SLP’s General Election press conference by a Socialist Labour Action supporter, we were denounced as being in some way cowardly by these pro-Labour, right wing, sectarian wreckers.
Workers Power’s public attacks on the SLP were aimed at exploiting Scargill’s bureaucratism to discredit the whole SLP project. But the intervention of the CPGB had a completely different motivation. They were supportive of the SLP project right from the very beginning, and their weekly press gave it considerable and friendly coverage, correctly seeing in the party’s formation an opportunity to expand the influence of revolutionary Marxism in the working class, a potential stepping stone for the creation of a revolutionary party. Yet in practice, despite these basically good intentions, the CPGB’s flawed "Marxism" led them to antics that appeared to many SLP members as not much different to Workers Power.
The CPGB chose to get on its high horse about the fact that Scargill & Co ruled out dual membership of the SLP and other organisations. Much of the SLP membership was prepared to go along with these exclusion clauses in Scargill’s constitution, at least in the earlier stages of the party’s development, to prevent it from being "raided" by leftist opponents of the SLP project itself. But the CPGB made the main thrust of its intervention an organisational confrontation with Scargill over the right to hold dual membership. CPGB supporters who were also SLP members incognito wrote detailed (though often distorted and inaccurate) accounts of SLP internal meetings for publication in the Weekly Worker. This both increased the paranoia of the SLP leadership and Scargill loyalists, and also caused resentment among other SLP oppositionists, who were often slandered and sometimes even fingered to the Scargill leadership in the pages of the CPGB paper.
The CPGB is a somewhat interesting left-centrist current that came out of Stalinism. Yet their main tools for dealing with leftist working class militants, such as those who joined the SLP and were loyal to Scargill, are ultimata and denunciation when they fail to get their way, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of "Third Period" Stalinism. Along with a certain unscrupulousness about dealing with political critics and opponents (another Stalinist hangover in the CPGB’s political make-up) their intervention in the SLP was fundamentally flawed and, despite their weekly press, did not exactly expand their influence or help much in the political development of the SLP.
There are many things one could say about the intervention of the CPGB in the SLP. However, in terms of their seeking to organise opposition, what was a constant, apart from their ultimatism in dealing with the supporters of the SLP leadership, was their willingness to initiate "all-inclusive" propaganda blocs with anyone who would join in, virtually irrespective of their politics or programme, against the Scargill leadership. In the early period (1996 and early 1997) this took the form of the Revolutionary Platform, an organisation that claimed to be "revolutionary" yet had a programme that was an innocuous all-inclusive series of demands that anyone who in any sense called themselves a "revolutionary" could agree with.
"Anyone" did, and the concrete form that this took in the early period was that part of the CPGB’s bloc was the grouping that publishes a scissors-and-paste sheet called the Economic and Philosophic Science Review, the followers of Royston Bull, a bizarre hardline bunch of converts to Stalinism from Gerry Healy’s old WRP. During their time in the SLP, they finally broke with any remaining residues they may have had of adherence to the "Trotskyist" norms of workers’ democracy. After an accelerating falling out with the CPGB (in part, ironically, triggered off by the CPGB’s attempt to finger former IBT comrades to the leadership, which the EPSR correctly condemned, before going off the deep end),6 they turned against the entire "far left" and became out-and-out Stalinist witch-hunters. The CPGB are no doubt still embarrassed that among the early components of their all inclusive "revolutionary" propaganda bloc was this miserable and bizarre grouping, who therefore were dignified by the CPGB with the title "Revolutionary". One would think that the CPGB would learn from the experience of the Revolutionary Platform that such unprincipled lowest common denominator oppositional groupings do not work.
But no, the CPGB’s next escapade in the SLP was if anything even more damaging. Right in the middle of the General Election campaign, they decided to build a similar "broad" oppositional grouping, the "Campaign for a Democratic SLP" (CDSLP) on the basis of a bloc with Workers Power. The political basis of this bloc was simple: one had merely to agree that the SLP leadership was "undemocratic" and therefore needed to be fought, and one had to agree that it was necessary to attack the SLP leadership publicly. Workers Power, of course, could support both of these planks of the CDSLP – after all, they opposed the whole SLP project and called on the working class to vote Labour! This bloc was in the process of formation during the General Election, and was consummated at a conference about six weeks after Blair’s victory, which was picketed by two SLP NEC members who handed out an NEC statement threatening attendees with expulsion from the party. Marxist Bulletin comrades distributed our own statement outside this meeting, which, while it defended the supporters of the CPGB and those confused and outraged SLP members who supported the CDSLP from Scargill’s attacks, sharply criticised the unprincipled nature of the CDSLP as a rotten bloc with pro-Blairite wreckers and called on party members not to politically support it.7
The activities of the Marxist Bulletin comrades in pursuit of a democratic internal regime are well known among SLP members, but not so well known outside the SLP. There is a very good reason for this: it is because, until the SLP decisively crossed the Rubicon and consolidated on a reformist, anti-communist basis at the December 1997 Congress, as supporters of the SLP project we were politically opposed to public attacks on this amorphous, new and politically unformed organisation. But our comrades were in fact as determined participants as any in the struggle against the bureaucratism that was threatening the party’s potential. One of our comrades took over the chair at the membership’s demand from Tony Goss and then SLP General Secretary Pat Sikorski at a crucial meeting in the fight against the Gosses in South London, where the leadership and the Gosses suffered a considerable (though temporary) humiliation at the hands of an enraged membership. Other Marxist Bulletin comrades in South London also played important roles in that fight. A future Marxist Bulletin supporter in North London came under attack from Sikorski for circulating to the SLP membership the pro-party and explicitly Trotskyist essay "Why Bob Pitt is Wrong" that was published in issue No.2 of What Next? – an unsuccessful attempt was made to purge him from the North London branch executive. Marxist Bulletin comrades also put forward resolutions in several branches defending party members who had been undemocratically "voided" by the leadership, several of whom were targeted for alleged association with the CPGB. And when the entire Vauxhall branch was disbanded for its support of one such comrade, a Marxist Bulletin supporter, as chair of the Vauxhall branch, was at the forefront of the struggle to build a campaign inside the party to reinstate the branch.
And as Scargill’s bureaucratic war against the subjectively revolutionary elements of the SLP escalated in 1997, our comrades were among the most prominent supporters of the pro-democracy united front campaign initiated by the Swindon branch, around the "Statement to the NEC and SLP members on the question of party democracy", the so-called "Wicks statement" after its author, the Swindon Branch Secretary and initiator of the internal SLP journal Socialist Perspectives, Martin Wicks.8 Unlike the rotten-bloc CDSLP, whose Third-Period-style tactics secured it the support of only one SLP branch (the short-lived Brent CSLP, dominated by people openly supportive of the CPGB’s politics), the "Wicks statement" campaign secured the support of 15 SLP branches and around 80 individuals by the time of the December 1997 conference. It was this united front that was either directly responsible or the political inspirer of most of the 17 motions that were ruled out of order by Scargill prior to the Congress. It was undoubtedly fear of the potential echo that this could get in the rest of the membership that led Scargill to crush any possibility of a democratic discussion on any question at the 1997 Congress by means of the phoney block vote, thus sealing the SLP’s doom as a potential new mass party of the working class. This campaign, which struggled to preserve and enhance the SLP’s potential, at least ended up clarifying once and for all in front of the members the Scargill leadership’s undying hostility to the SLP becoming a genuine workers’ party, preferring a pathetic bureaucratic Stalinoid sect (which the SLP is now becoming).
And of course, the Marxist Bulletin comrades were not just known for our campaigning for democracy, but for the political programme we stood on. Though we liquidated our separate public organisation as the British IBT section, we did not renounce our Trotskyist politics, but rather we actively sought opportunities to advance our programme. We participated in the workshops before the founding conference, and out of our advocacy of minority, revolutionary positions in those workshops, we stood two comrades for the NEC on these positions at the May 1996 Congress. One comrade stood on a slate with several other leftists of varying politics, the point of unity between them being an amendment to Scargill’s economics paper that sought to replace his advocacy of "Old Labour" style bourgeois nationalisation schemes with a perspective that raised the question of the class nature of the state:
"The SLP fights for nationalisation without compensation of the major capitalist concerns, including the banks, finance companies, basic resources and the major transport operations. All basic services: health, social housing, education and transport, should be controlled by elected committees of workers from these services and users. This is a basic programme leading up to our eventual aim of a democratically planned economy under workers’ control. We recognise that if the working class fights for socialism we will face every form of resistance the ruling class can muster. Socialist Labour sees that the capitalist state exists to keep the ruling class in power, not as something to be used by either class. As workers we must build our own state and smash the power and structures of capitalist ones."9
This insertion was of course, voted down at the founding Congress. Yet, in standing for election on it, our comrade failed by only one vote to be elected to the NEC in the Congress ballot. Another future Marxist Bulletin comrade, who had been active in the SLP’s international questions workshop, stood for the NEC at that Congress on the basis of a statement that placed particular emphasis on the need for revolutionary opposition to British imperialism and imperialism in general, calling for the party to "defend Cuba, China, North Korea and other remaining non-capitalist states" and for an SLP-led workers’ government to "give aid, and if necessary military aid" to nations such as Iraq involved in wars against imperialism.10
Our comrades were also heavily involved in initial attempts to set up a Socialist Labour Party youth group, with three future Marxist Bulletin supporters (two of whom were former IBTers) on the interim youth steering body that was supposed to prepare the basis for an conference of SLP youth supporters at the end of 1996. While actively fighting to get the youth section off the ground, these comrades attempted to develop a revolutionary programme for the youth. They produced a draft youth charter, which was circulated among the putative youth grouping and the party, that prefigured much that would later be advocated by our bulletin. Our incipient grouping gained both co-thinkers and more general political influence as a result of this work, co-operating with other leftist young people of differing political views and traditions to try to build a viable, revolutionary youth section.
The response of the Scargill leadership was in many ways worse than those of Labour Party leaderships in the past. Faced with the possibility of people with supposedly "ultra-left" views gaining influence in an SLP youth section, they decided the kill off the youth section before it got off the ground. The NEC cancelled the youth conference, and arbitrarily decreed an age-limit of 25 for the youth section, thus at one fell swoop making most of those engaged in building the youth section ineligible for membership of it even before it was started! At least Labour Party leaderships in the past waited until there was a viable youth section before purging and destroying it. Arthur Scargill went one better than Harold Wilson and Neil Kinnock – he destroyed the "leftist" youth section before it even got off the ground.
On the question of the Labour Party, in the lead up to the General Election, a future supporter of the Marxist Bulletin debated another SLP comrade at a South London SLP aggregate on whether the party should advocate a vote to Labour where we were not standing. Our comrade advocated "No vote to Labour" and on a show of hands at the end of the meeting, the vast majority of members agreed with him. A number of discussion documents were also produced by our comrades and circulated within the party to stimulate political debate: these laid the basis for the emergence of our bulletin. One of the most important was circulated in early 1997 and sought to elaborate at some length an important point we had been making for some time – the need for a "bridge", a programme of transitional demands, between many of the supportable minimum demands that even SLP official policy was making, and the programme of socialism, which in a classic social democratic manner was posed extremely abstractly in the official material and in practice relegated to the indefinite future:
"The major weakness ... is the yawning chasm between the programme of immediate demands, which is explicitly posed as a series of reforms to the existing system, and the final goal of "creating a socialist society". We should be aware that this kind of division, between "immediate demands" and the "final goal" (also known as the "minimum" and "maximum" programmes) is a characteristic hallmark of social democratic politics. The Labour Party, right through the days of Ramsay MacDonald through to Wilson/Callaghan, could tolerate airy talk of its "final goal" as expressed in the old Labour Party Clause IV, as long as its programme of immediate demands were kept completely separate from anything that pointed to the necessity to go beyond capitalism. To the Labour Party, any demands that pointed concretely to the need to destroy capitalism itself constituted "extremism" and were to be avoided like the plague."11
This and other documents circulated within the party, together with the hard work that our comrades had put in seeking to build the party itself, laid the basis for the launch of the SLP Marxist Bulletin during the General Election campaign. Breaking with the stupid paranoia-inducing tactics of other leftists in publishing articles under cryptic pseudonyms, our comrades signed their names to an internal party journal that openly advocated revolutionary politics. There was a possibility that we could have been expelled for this, of course, but if the leadership had done so, it would have paid a political price, in that it would have been expelling us for opinions openly expressed, and not for something that would have been perceived as something underhand. In fact, particularly in the period leading up to the 1997 Congress, Scargill wrote to our comrades threatening us with disciplinary action, but did not dare to go through with it.
The Marxist Bulletin has become a modest, but respected force within the SLP and the milieux of people who have been through it. We have published six issues of the bulletin, we stood several comrades as a Marxist Bulletin slate on our full programme ("A Marxist Programme for the Socialist Labour Party") for the London Regional Committee elections last July, and for the NEC at the December Congress. Our candidate Alan Gibson came second out of four possibles in the election for SLP Vice-President, behind Patrick Sikorski, and for one brief moment, when Sikorski temporarily withdrew his nomination in protest at the deletion of the SLP’s Black Section from the constitution, in theory could have been elected. We believe that people who examine our record in the SLP will come to the conclusion that our work in seeking to intersect this important opportunity was in the best traditions of the Trotskyist movement, in its classic period in the 1930s, and a marker for what a more substantial movement based on a consistent revolutionary programme and Marxist tactics could achieve.
The SLP is basically finished now – the December Congress was the turning point. Yet there is a substantial positive side of the balance sheet. A marker has been laid for the future, that it is possible to begin to address the masses and build an alternative to Labour and against Labour. There were a number of campaigns run in the General Election, where they were properly planned, organised and targeted, that made a significant impact in a election where the Blairite tide was considerable. What a layer of activists have learned also is the treacherous role of "left" bureaucrats like Scargill, and the need to break with their methods and to a greater or lesser extent, their politics. For the question of democracy in the SLP was above all a programmatic question. At bottom, Scargill, no matter how "left" his rhetoric or even his actions in a purely trade union sense, remained tied to the reformist politics of the pro-capitalist trade union bureaucracy, which has a material interest in the preservation of wage slavery since it derives its existence from negotiating the terms of exploitation of the workers. Scargill was confronted with the choice of breaking with this bureaucracy, or purifying "his" party from nefarious influences who wanted such a break. He made his choice, and the result was the farcical December Congress that fundamentally tarnished the SLP. A key task of the supporters of the Marxist Bulletin in the next period will be to draw and consolidate the lessons of this experience for the serious layer of activists who have been through the SLP experience and seek to continue to build a new, genuine party of the working class in Britain. They are not going to disappear from the scene. And neither will we.
1. See the South London Press and Private Eye from 1987-88 for details of the general circumstances of the Gosses’ expulsion from the Labour Party on charges of violence and corruption. Regarding their subsequent election campaign against the Labour Party, see the South London Press of 20 April 1990 for a letter from Ann Goss, Independent Labour candidate for Friary ward, denouncing the council for allowing gays to be foster parents. See also reply from Trudy Saunders, Peckham CLP youth officer, defending gays against Mrs Goss’s attacks (South London Press, 4 May 1990). For apparently sympathetic coverage of the Goss’s campaign against the gypsy site, and council workmen being sent in to remove asbestos contamination of the site, see South London Press, 10 November, 17 November 1989, 23 March 1990.
2. Ian Dudley and Geoff Palmer, "The Socialist Labour Party: Why Bob Pitt is Wrong", What Next? No.2, 1996.
5. Weekly Worker, 13 December 1997.
6. See "Wretched" in Weekly Worker, 10 October 1996, for an example of the CPGB making accusations in public of IBT membership against those ex-IBT members who went on to found the Marxist Bulletin. This fingering of our comrades, who by that time were widely known in the SLP as former IBTers, was briefly and correctly condemned by Royston Bull (see Economic and Philosophic Science Review, 15 October 1996), before the unstable Bullites crossed over to become rabid pro-Scargill witch-hunters.
7. See "Don’t support this anti-SLP lash-up", reprinted in Marxist Bulletin No.3.
8. The "Statement to the NEC and SLP members on the question of party democracy" is reprinted in Marxist Bulletin No.3.
9. Election statement of Barbara Duke and 4 other comrades, 1 May 1996.
10. Election statement by Ian Dudley, 1 May 1996
11. "Where are we going?", document by Ian Dudley, Geoff Palmer and Christopher Lenk, reprinted in Marxist Bulletin No.1.