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Why I Am Joining the Socialist Labour Party

Will Brown

From New Interventions, Vol.7 No.2, 1996

HAVING JUST returned from the first policy conference of the Socialist Labour Party, I can begin to decide whether the project is of any value.

I joined because I want to be part of a party that is neither pro-capitalist in practice nor Leninist in organisation. Activity in the Labour Party through the 80s convinced me that Clause IV has never represented the real goal of the Labour Party and that, at the same time, the revolu­tionary groups inspired by Lenin, of both the Trotskyist and Stalinist flavour, were not organisations I ever wanted to be part of.

A year of intense activity in support of the miners in 1984/85 showed what a politically inspired mass working class struggle looks like and revealed the depth and passion of the hidden political ideas of many working class people.

The SLP wasn't an immediate attraction for me. The miners are obviously nothing like as important as they were. While I admire Arthur Scaigill's courage and intransi­gence, his style seems egotistical and occasionally authori­tarian. And with friends still in the Labour Party the pros­pect of being regarded as a splitter is not appealing. Nor did the prospect of a return to election canvassing thrill me.

Several things pushed me into joining. The most impor­tant was that a number of the activists I most respect joined, notably Dave Chapple and Glen Burrows. The leadership of the postal workers' union branch in Bristol joined, along with local leaders from the rail unions. I was also at­tracted by the clear decision by the SLP to exclude Leninist-type groups from membership. While I have known, liked and respected many people in Militant, the SWP and the rest, and while I think these organisations have achieved some positive things, I do not want to be in an organisa­tion with them. I am glad that the SLP founders faced this question directly and have made a clear decision. I want to be in a party that is anti-capitalist, pro-working class and socialist. I do not want to be in a Leninist party or in a party where factions of different Leninist type groups battle for supremacy. Such a prospect appals me!

The final thing that decided me to join was a combination of Blair stepping down Claire Short for suggesting cannabis could be legalised and the sight of Scargill and Brenda Nixon campaigning in Hemsworth. Blair's value is that he has forcefully smashed socialists' illusions in the La­bour Party. But New Labour is only new in the honesty of its leadership. The only reason to vote for Blair is to oust the Tories.

The SLP policy conference was encouraging. Attendance was good (300), as was the composition: working class, a lot of active trade unionists and a decent number of women. The two workshops I attended (animal rights and transport) were conducted in a good spirit with a high quality of contribution and no visible sectarian dogmatism.

There are still plenty of problems. Scargill is the only crowd-puller and media-significant figure. The tendency to hark back to Labour's betrayal is a temptation to be resisted. There are clearly plenty of tensions possible between, for ex­ample, the Trotskyist and Stalinist traditions.

But this is the first left party launched since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Trotskyist/Stalinist schism, Clause IV of the Labour Party and Lenin's model for the revolutionary party are welded to the Soviet period of world history. While the tradition of the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living, the dynamic energy of capitalism forces us away from previous ways of doing things.

The left has been profoundly constipated by its inability to move beyond the Russian revolution. But we are in a new world now material reality has changed the forces of production have developed.

The working class can come up with new politics and new methods of organisations thai will have potency in the new world. The SLP is the first chance to give this a go. It may well fail, but in my opinion there isn't much to lose. Signifi­cant elements of the unions have joined the bedrock of work­ing class organisation. Clearly some involved crave for a purified Labour Party others still dream of being a British Lenin or Trotsky. For me the left needs a good crap to rid itself of the accumulated clutter of the past and start forward with humility but enthusiasm. The SLP is a possible oppor­tunity and its first policy conference was a promising start.