The Socialist Labour Party (SLP) held its third (that is, if we exclude the Special Congress held in Manchester, 14 November 1998) Congress on the weekend of 6/7 November 1999 in London’s Conway Hall. Apart from Party delegates, the Conference Hall was graced by the presence of fraternal delegates from the DPRK, Cuba, France, Ireland and Sweden.
Emergency Motion on Railways
Party President, Frank Cave, opened the proceedings with a short address, in which he pleaded with the delegates to take the Emergency Motion on Rail, Safety and Public Ownership, submitted by Morley and Rothwell CSLP, as the first item of the agenda. This being agreed to, this motion was introduced by Dave ‘Mick’ Rix, the General Secretary of the rail drivers union, ASLEF, and seconded by Bob Crow, member of the NEC of the SLP and Assistant General Secretary of the railway workers’ union, RMT. Speaking to the motion, comrades Rix and Crow emphasised the connection between rail safety and public ownership of the entire railway network. With great passion, and to enthusiastic applause, they declared that tragedies of the kind which took place in Southall and Ladbroke Grove (Paddington) were caused mainly by a system which puts profits before people’s lives. Driven by the urge to make maximum profit, Railtrack, which makes £1.3 million profits each day, refuses to invest in infrastructure and rail safety. They called for the immediate taking back into public ownership of the entire railway industry; the retention in public ownership of the London underground; a programme of massive investment, funded publicly, in
“both the main line and the underground systems”
in order to create an efficient and safe railway system worthy of the travelling public and railway employees alike. The Emergency Motion, and the speeches of the mover and seconder in support of it, struck a chord with the delegates, many of whom came to the rostrum to express their support. After a lively, debate the motion was passed unanimously.
The Congress went on to discuss the Emergency Motion on Cyprus. Introducing the motion, Nusret Sen, pointing out that Anglo-American imperialism was the chief villain in the continued division of Cyprus and the occupation of a third of the island by the fascist Turkish regime, went on to call for the independence of Cyprus. With that aim in mind, he went on to demand that the 1959 Zurich and 1960 London Agreements, which gave Britain, Turkey and Greece the right to interfere in the affairs of Cyprus, be declared
“null and void”
; that Britain immediately hand over the
“so-called Sovereign Bases”
to the people of Cyprus and withdraw its troops
“therefore back to Britain”.
He concluded by calling for the unity of the revolutionary forces in Britain, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus as a means of expelling Anglo-American imperialism and its stooges, the Turkish and Greek regimes, from Cyprus and placing power in the hands of an anti-imperialist United Front Government in Cyprus. This passionate plea was fully endorsed by the Congress and the motion passed with complete unanimity.
NATO’s criminal war against Yugoslavia
Following the emergency motions, the Congress discussed over the two days a host of motions dealing with such issues as the economy, education, the international situation, Europe, Socialist News (the Party paper) and party organisation. Two of these topics, namely, the war waged by the Neo-Nazi Nato alliance against tiny Yugoslavia and Party organisation, were the subject of impassioned arguments.
Speaking on the composite motion concerning Yugoslavia, John Beardsall (Barnsley West and Penistone CSLP) and Harpal Brar (Ealing Southall CSLP), emphasised not only the scale and brutality of the destruction visited by imperialist war-mongers on the Yugoslav people, but also the illegality and immorality of this war on the side of imperialism. They called for the indictment of the leading imperialist spokespersons – Clinton, Albright, Blair, Cook, Schröder, Fischer, Chiraq, Jospin, D’Alema and several dozen others – as war criminals for crimes against humanity and for being instrumental in the
“planning, preparation, initiation and waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances”
as defined by the Nuremburg Tribunal. They also called for the payment of reparations by the 19 Nato countries, especially by the US, Britain, France, Germany and Italy, to the people of Yugoslavia to make good the damage caused to Yugoslav infrastructure and for the loss of innocent lives in that country. Finally, they demanded the withdrawal of Nato aggressors from the territory of Yugoslavia in order that the Yugoslav people, including that of the Yugoslav province of Kosovo, may determine their own affairs without foreign imperialist interference. After many further contributions the motion was overwhelmingly endorsed by the Congress.
Although there were several motions on Party organisation, motion 19, calling for the rejection of a
“dogmatic canonisation of Marxist … writings”
and the abandonment of
and the amendment to it, calling for a
“thorough open polemic “
as a means of
promoting “healthy growth of the workers’ party”
, the recognition of the
“achievements of the workers’ states”,
and the recognition of Marxism
“as the comprehensive science of consistent materialism
” which alone can enable the working class in
“mastering modern society and leading it to communism”,
were debated most vigorously. During the course of the debate on motion number 19 (as submitted by Colne Valley CLSP), and the amendment to it (submitted by Wansdyke CSLP), the controversy turned on the question of whether the SLP was a Marxist Party. From the majority of the opinions expressed by the speakers at the Congress, as well as the warmth (or lack of it) with which contributions on these questions were received by the delegates, it was abundantly clear that the overwhelming sentiment at the Congress was that not only was Marxism a science but also that the SLP was a party subscribing to the philosophy of Marxism. After a heated debate, following the recommendation of the NEC, the Congress rejected Motion 19 as well as the amendment to it.
General Secretary’s Report
On the afternoon of Saturday, 6 November, Comrade Arthur Scargill, the General Secretary of the SLP, introduced the NEC report to the Congress. In it, he underlined that the SLP was established with a constitution calling for the
“abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism
“; that the SLP, while participating in local and national parliamentary elections, and representing, when the opportunity arose, working people in local government and parliament, would at the same time engage in
“direct action and extra-Parliamentary”
activity; that the founding of the SLP, while
creating “a furore across Britain’s political spectrum”
, was seen by
“many on the left … as a potential bandwagon which they could infiltrate for their own political purposes”;
that the birth of the
SLP “aroused a rage amongst those inside ‘New Labour’ who still considered themselves socialists despite the fact that ‘New Labour’ has abandoned every principle…”
. Addressing the ‘left’ ‘New Labour’ MPs, the General Secretary’s report says that after four years since the founding of the SLP,
“we are entitled to make clear that our Party will oppose their views and their actions, and … stand candidates against them in any future election”.
In the section entitled ‘A Historical Perspective’, the General Secretary’s report points out that Tony Blair had
“completed the metamorphosis
” of the Labour Party into a party
“openly representing and advocating the free market, capitalism and globalisation
“. Although the SLP’s progress has been hindered by the infiltrators, who
“caused disruptions, particularly in two of our 11 regions”,
the report states that, for all that disruption, the membership of the Party has registered a significant increase. If in 1996, the Party had 1,648 individual members, of whom only 505 were fully financial, today it has 2,514 individual members, with 921 fully financial, in addition to the 3,375 members from affiliated trade unions.
The report then continues with a survey of the Party’s performance in the elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, Local Authority elections, and the European Parliamentary Election of 1999, in all of which the Party put up a creditable performance.
The section on the economy paints a bleak picture of imperialist Britain, with real unemployment standing at 7 million and the consequent poverty and misery which is the lot of an increasing section of the working class; the decimation of manufacturing; the widespread homelessness and hunger hand-in-hand with burgeoning food mountains.
Before passing on to the work of the Industrial and International Committees of the Party, the report denounced ‘New Labour’ for abandoning its
“previous commitments to take back into public ownership those industries and services privatised by the Tories”.
As for the fraternal delegates, the comrade representing the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) was unable to be with us beyond the morning of the Saturday due to pressing arrangements. The other fraternal delegates delivered their messages of solidarity and greetings in the afternoon session. Alain Simon, a member of the Communist Party of France and Secretary General of the International Energy and Miners’ Organisation conveyed greetings from the French trade unions, praised the SLP for its opposition to the imperialist war against Yugoslavia, its opposition to anti-trade union legislation and for its support for the Cuban Revolution.
Representing the Communist Party of Cuba, comrade Terecita Trujillo Hernandez, delivered a message of solidarity and thanked the SLP for the latter’s practical involvement in, and support for, activities in support of Cuba. She concluded by expressing her hopes for a better world and the strengthening of fraternal ties between the SLP and the Communist Party of Cuba.
Paul Butler, speaking on behalf of Sinn Fein, delivered a message of solidarity, an eloquent testimony to the steadfastness of the forces of national liberation in Ireland. He reviewed the long history of nationalist attempts to resolve the conflict in Ireland and the unionists’ obstructionism, with British Government assistance, at every stage of the tortuous peace process.
Also, Teddy John-Frank, who represented the KPML(r) of Sweden, provided a written message of solidarity, which was read aloud at the Congress by comrade Bridget Bell, Chair of the International Committee. This message is reproduced elsewhere in this issue. Accompanying Teddy John-Frank were comrade Frank Baude, until recently the chairman of the KPML(r) and his wife Sulvei.
Arthur Scargill’s Closing Speech
The Congress proceedings were brought to an end by the closing speech of the General Secretary, in which he said that although there had been
“heated and though-provoking debate, no one had challenged the SLP constitution”.
The NEC, he said,
“needs to listen to what has been said”.
In reference to the sabotage indulged in by some former members, he said that the International Committee has not always met regularly, except in the recent past. The same was the case with the Industrial Committee.
“Comrades must fulfil the commitments they give rather than excuses for not fulfilling them”
, he said.
“This Party”, he went on
“was established following dialogue and discussions with those that some comrades want us to have an alliance with”,
but they refused to join us. What can be the point in the SLP having an alliance with these same people?
As to ‘New Labour’, its members, he said,
“refuse to speak from the same platform as me and other leaders of the SLP. Their reason can only be guilt in the knowledge that we have taken the right action and they have not. We should pity them for they are going through the pain barrier. You would feel the same if your party gave up all pretence to socialism, openly embraced the free market and globalisation, and if it was leading the bloody war against Yugoslavia and Iraq”.
To loud applause, he went on, “
I don’t care who rules these two countries
[Yugoslavia and Iraq
] for the war against them is a crime against humanity”.
In a reference to the recent rail disaster at Paddington, he declared that “Britain can only have a safe railway system if the industry is publicly owned and controlled”. “We must fight against the privatisation of London underground”, he said, for such a fight would give a boost to the struggle for public ownership and socialism. Workers, in the course of the struggle will learn the necessity of non-compliance with unjust anti-trade union laws. Something the trade union leaders should learn from us.
“It is time that trade union leaders took a leaf out of our book”.
Britain, he said, was facing the biggest crisis in the sphere of the economy and the British ruling class was busy passing the burdens of this crisis on to the working class. In addition, it was guilty of waging war against Yugoslavia and Iraq and shifting the costs of these wars on to the shoulders of the working class.
“had been dropped on Yugoslavia during the recent war than on Germany during the entire Second World War”.
Condemning Nato’s cowardly tactics, he
said “what a contest – bombing from a distance sometimes of 25 kilometres!”
Alluding to the misery imposed by capitalism on the British working class, comrade Scargill stated: “
Thirteen million out of the 56 million people in Britain live below the poverty line. Children are the worst sufferers, four million of whom, representing 36% of all children, live in households below the poverty line”. “If we can spend money killing people”,
he went on to ask,
“why can’t we pay our pensioners a sum which enables them to live?”
While ‘New Labour’ had lost a great many of its members, the SLP, said comrade Scargill, was growing. “
If the Labour Party was really socialist, it would have taken the entire economy into public ownership and abolished the House of Lords and the monarchy”,
he said. By way of an explanation as to why he and his comrades stayed so long in the Labour Party, he said
: “we stayed in because we could not convince others of the necessity of leaving before Labour had exposed itself through the abolition of Clause IV and the acceptance of globalisation”.
Answering those who want the SLP to enter into alliances with other ‘left’ organisations, the General Secretary said unequivocally:
“we are not prepared to accept federalism and alliances with anybody. If they agree with us; they should leave their parties and join ours”.
He went on to urge comrades to promote Socialist News, the Party paper. If each region took 500 copies and each member 2 copies of every issue, this would push its sales to more than 10,000 per issue.
He concluded by saying:
“let us learn from the great leaders and philosophers of the past. Let us learn from the past struggles”.
For instance, we need to ask: “
Why was the Polish Solidarity backed by Britain and the US? Why was Solidarity accepting money from the CIA? And, why was Solidarity backing the Thatcher Government during the 1984-85 NUM strike?”
he said, “
taught me to support the side opposed to the one being backed by the world capitalist class”
. To thundering applause, Comrade Scargill declared that his faith in socialism was
The delegates greeted the end of his speech with a standing ovation.
On Saturday evening, a very successful fringe meeting was held on the question of the New World Order, with specific reference to the events in East Timor and the imperialist war against Yugoslavia and Iraq, with Victoria Brittain and Harpal Brar as the speakers. Victoria Brittain’s contribution was to have been included in this issue but space did not permit, so it will be included in the next issue of Lalkar. As the view expressed by Harpal Brar at this meeting resembles closely the articles which have already appeared in Lalkar, there is no need to include them in this issue.
All in all it was probably the best Congress held by the SLP so far. Unlike previous Congresses, there was very little attempt at disruption, if for not other reason than that the disrupters – known as the 57 varieties – had already quit the Party.
The Congress also re-elected Frank Cave as the Party President, Arthur Scargill as General Secretary, and elected Linda Muir as the Vice-President.
A fourteen member National Executive was also elected, with provision, consequent upon constitutional amendment, for co-options to this body.