Socialist Labour Party

Steve Wallis S.Wallis at mmu.ac.uk
Fri Nov 17 05:13:44 MST 1995


Adam Rose <adam at pmel.com> wrote, about the call by Arthur Scargill (leader
of the National Union of Mineworkers in Britain) for the formation of a
Socialist Labour Party:

> i)	The move should be welcomed.
>
> 	I think the fact that elements in the Labour Party see the need
> 	for a socialist alternative to the Labour Party, and are prepared
> 	to act on this understanding, is to be welcomed.
>
> 	It illustrates the existence of a layer of working class activists
> 	who are already deeply disillusioned with Blair, and who realise
> 	that if there are to be any reforms under a Labour government, we
> 	are going to have to fight for them ourselves.

I agree with this analysis of the objective situation.  However, the question
is whether the formation of the SLP would be a positive development in this
objective situation; i.e. will it help the struggle for a socialist society.

I say yes, and along with other members of Militant Labour I'll help build this
party.  And, since we will be involved in the SLP from the start, we will be
able to influence what sort of party it will be, and the policies and strategy
it will adopt.

You seem to be pessimistic about the prospects for the SLP (which would seem
to imply that you would not expect it to help in the struggle for socialism,
in which case surely you should not welcome it???).

> ii)	What sort of party should it be ?
>
> 	I only have what the Guardian said the day the news broke to go
> 	on, but there seem to be two contradictory elements in his plans :
>
> 	a)	A commitment to fight for the interests of the working class
> 	b)	An orientation on winning over the Trade Union Beauracracy.

(a) obviously - which is not to say that it will not attract some in leading
positions in trade unions (they are not all bureaucrats).

> 	These two commitments contradict. If he is to build a party which
> 	fights for workers interests, this implies criticism of the trade
> 	union beauracracy, right + left. For instance, in the current
> 	dockers dispute, it means criticising the left T+G leadership for
> 	not making the strike official and not calling the mass pickets
> 	which could win the dispute.
>
> 	On the other hand, if he wants to win over the trade union bureaucracy,
> 	he will supress these critisisms. If he does that, he will find himself
> 	unable to win over the more militant activists in disputes like the
> 	dockers'.

Saying "he will supress these critisisms" implies that Scargill will have
dictatorial control over the party.  Attempts by anyone within the SLP
(whether Scargill or anyone else) to run the SLP in a bureaucratic manner will
have to be resisted.  Of course mistakes or sell-outs by "lefts" should be
criticised.

> 	This is related to what scargill calls avoiding "sectarian debates".
> 	What he actually means by this, I think, is a party which contains
> 	revolutionaries side by side with reformists, but which as a party
> 	has no position on whether the state can be reformed.

There will undoubtedly be huge debates within the SLP, on matters such as
policies, strategy and the party's constitution (e.g. what are its democratic
structures).  Scargill is being naive if he thinks that such debates can be
avoided.

> 	This fits in with b) above, but also has consequences for the new
> 	party's orientation on elections. I am not against using parliamentary
> 	elections to put forward socialist ideas. However, if your aim is
> 	actually to be a left reformist party, you have two problems :
>
> 	i)	Workers, even though they may be sympathetic to a more
> 		left wing program, may well vote for the main reformist
> 		party ie the Labour Party.

True (this will be a particular problem without proportional representation)
- but sizable votes are still achievable as Militant Labour have demonstrated
in practice.

> 	ii)	On the other hand,
> 		If a purely electoralist strategy is successful, the reform/
> 		revolution issue cannot be avoided. This has happened in Italy
> 		with the Reconstructed Communists ( I'm can't remember the
> 		exact Italian ). They are currently in government and are split
> 		on whether to oppose the Nothern League's racist immigration
> 		proposals.

Of course a reformist or centrist party will be put to the test if it ever
reaches a position of power.  They will show in practice that they cannot
achieve socialism by reforming captialism - and in such a situation, it
would be possible to win millions of workers to revolutionary conclusions.

Of course there will be leaders who sell out.  Of course there will be splits.
But such a party will attract many genuine workers.  Out of a mass reformist
or centrist party, a mass revolutionary party could arise that is capable of
carrying out a successful socialist revolution.

> iii)	Don't kid yourself - it wouldn't be a mass party.
>
> 	The new party, partly because of the weakness of the Labour Left,
> 	wouldn't be anything like a mass party. Pretending otherwise will
> 	lead to rapid demoralisation. This links in to the expectations you
> 	might have re: elections. If you view elections as a useful way of
> 	winning people to socialist politics, then fine. But if you seriously
> 	expect to replace Labour as the main reformist party, you will be
> 	seriously disappointed.

I certainly wouldn't expect the SLP to become a mass party this side of a
general election.  But when Labour comes to power and attacks the working
class, the potential for such a party will be enormous.  The description
of Labour as "the main reformist party" is almost completely out-of-date;
even before Labour comes to power, Blair is making it clear that it will
not make significant reforms.

The SWP's perspectives seems to be just as wrong as those of the small
Marxist organisations that remain within the Labour Party, clinging on to
the faintest hope that it will shift significantly to the left in the future
(which is now extremely unlikely).

[I hope the above does not sound sectarian - the SLP is a marvellous
opportunity for uniting the left, and other socialist organisations and
individuals should follow Militant Labour's lead and help build the
Socialist Labour Party.]

Labour's transformation into just another capitalist party is almost
complete, almost undistinguishable from the Tories and Lib Dems.  As
capitalism continues to fail to satisfy the aspirations of working class
people, a socialist party such as the SLP can clearly gain mass support.

> iv)	History of Left reformism : ILP in the 1930's
>
> 	It grew for a while, but was basically sandwiched bewtween the CP,
> 	which was seen as the revolutionary alternative ( despite its
> 	Stalinist politics ) , and the Labour Party. Besides, when it came
> 	to the crunch, it had no real weight in the workplace and had to rely
> 	on the CP anyway. As a result, in theory, this meant it never broke
> 	from Stalinist politics, and in practise, it had no influence on the
> 	outcome of real struggles.

The situation is different from that in the 1930s, and the SLP can learn from
history.  I don't have time to go into more detail at the moment...

> v)	Why not go the whole hog and just build a revolutionary party,
> 	orientated on change from below ? Do you really want to be planning
> 	the launch of a new socialist socialist Labour Party in another 80
> 	years time ?

Militant Labour is such a revolutionary party, and we will continue to build
Militant Labour as well as helping build the SLP.  The task of building a
mass revolutionary party, with the overwhelming support of the working class,
is not an easy one.  Thousands, if not millions, of workers and youth will be
attracted to the SLP, and it would be a terrible mistake to abandon them to
the reformists.

> vi)	I can't see how we can take a decision whether to vote for a party which
> 	doesn't exist yet.

I've heard that the SWP decided at a conference a couple of weeks ago that if
such a new party was formed, that it would call for workers to vote for it,
but would not help build this party.  Correct me if this rumour is wrong...

>       I think as the election approaches, the pressure not
> 	to rock the boat, and the desperation to get the Tories out, make it
> 	unlikely that such a party of much significance will be formed anyway.
> 	Rash prediction or what ? We'll see.

I think that such a party will be formed before the next election (unless
there is an early one).  Its significance may not become particularly apparent
until after the election, but it is correct to prepare the ground by starting
to build the SLP now.

Build the Socialist Labour Party!

Steve.



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