The Education Committee of the SLP organised its first-ever national School on education. It took place at the weekend of 2-3 September in Saklatvala Hall, Southall. This School was very well attended, specially by young people. Presentations, followed by discussion, were made on such subjects as Capitalism, Socialism, Imperialism, and Education. The School concluded with a speech by Comrade Arthur Scargill, General Secretary of the SLP, a précis of which is reproduced below.
The importance of theory
It is now many years since I first attended a political school at the tender age of 15 and a half years. I learnt there that my school education had been almost devoid of any real, meaningful historical content. There had been no reference, for example, to the 1926 general strike, or to the peasants’ revolt, or to the struggles for the right to vote.
This is why we need schools of the kind organised today. They must examine what our Party stands for, our political ideology and philosophy and relate them to present-day conditions.
The importance of practice guided by correct theory
I was taught at that first school that theory without practice is sterile. I was also told that practice without theory is blind. I have to say that my experiences over the years have taught me that in the labour and trade union movement today, we have certainly a lot of armchair philosophers who are excellent at theory but do not practise anything. On the other hand, we have a marvellous collection of activists who blindly go forward and tackle every issue that comes along, but without the basic threoetical understanding that is absolutely essential if we are not only to understand the world but also change it.
What is the purpose of us being in this room if we do not plan out how to change the system and try to do something about it?
Lessons to be learnt from practice
We have recently been given a very important lesson by the French workers’ dispute. They didn’t have a ballot or a conference. It didn’t take a 5 year court case or appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, or a petition to the United Nations. They went on strike. And they got the government to talk to them within 48 hours, and they settled it within 3 days.
When the leader of the CGT said that the English trade union movement are no longer prepared to fight, I believe he was telling the truth. I hope he meant the trade union leadership and not trade unionists, because when workers are faced with a conflict they are prepared to respond. It is only the people in power that are desperately afraid of losing their privileges like big cars, big houses, nice pensions and nice money. They seem to be paralysed by fear almost like a rabbit in the headlights of a car, unable or unwilling to act.
The French working class are prepared to act and are effective although only 18% are organised in the trade union movement. If 18% can bring France to its knees, then what are we doing in Britain, with nearly 40% of the working class in the organised trade union movement, unable to persuade a government to scrap the anti trade union law?
On socialist alliances
I am sick and tired of listening to people ask me whether it wouldn’t be better if we joined a socialist alliance and got together as one organisation. Sounds great doesn’t it? The problem for those who advocate this is that this is exactly what we have done.
Prior to 1995, many people in the labour and trade union movement, and certainly I was one, recognised, unpalatable though it was, that the Labour Party had a constitutional commitment to take into common ownership the means of production distribution and exchange. I didn’t believe it intended to do it, but the fact that it was in there meant many people did believe it would.
This made it difficult to try to form another political party. In 1995, however, the Blair leadership removed any suggestion that the Labour Party was even sympathetic to socialism. More importantly, it openly committed the Labour party to the free market and changed the Constitution in such a way as to remove the power and authority of the trade unions.
When that defining moment came about many people including myself were able to argue the case for another party. We convened a series of meetings, inviting people from all over the left political spectrum. The Constitution of the Socialist Labour Party was the result of 6 months’ intensive discussion, involving all these parties who now want an alliance – the SWP, the Socialist Party, etc. It also included members of the Communist Party of Britain and a number of people from the Labour party, and other left organisations.
We sought to create an inclusive party that would embrace everybody on the left who was, firstly, committed to overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with a socialist system of society and, secondly, prepared to undertake to leave their political baggage at the door and stop this nonsense of being in two camps at once.
The reason that it never came to full fruition is that none of them were prepared to give up their own political party. They only ever wanted an alliance. Alliances look good on paper but are, in reality, an absolute unmitigated disaster.
The SLP’s education policy
Unlike alliances, the SLP must first of all be clear and consistent in its policy. We must argue the case on behalf of people in struggle. Equally, as Harpal said when I heard him speak on education earlier this afternoon, our policy is to end privilege and patronage. As regards education, we want to tear down private education and replace it with an education system that is properly funded and that meets the needs of all.
Our education system is, however, still going to teach our people that capitalism is right; that when we created the empire and when we plundered India and Africa, when we wiped out the Indians in America and slaughtered the Aborigines in Australia, we did all this in the name of glory.
There is only one way to begin to redress this. [Comrade Scargill referred at this point to learn from the Schools organised by the miners in the early part of the 20
century, which provided education from the perspective of the working class, and enabled workers to learn the truth when capitalism was feeding them on lies.]
Mobilising the working class
We also need to take our message to every university in Britain and every workplace. When I speak at universities, I would welcome the opportunity of having our young people, and I am delighted to see so many here, speaking alongside me. I tell you, we can win people for socialism – not for the nonsense and short-termism of socialist alliances which are going nowhere, and are already attacking each other.
[Comrade Scargill called for more education, discipline, regular branch activity and public meetings, and increased sales of
He emphasised that the Party had already achieved tremendous successes in the trade-union movement. It was also making tremendous advances in organisations concerned with single issues, ranging from the campaign against dumping toxic waste to protests against water pollution and open-cast mining. The SLP must be a campaigning party and will demonstrate the correctness of its programme through campaigning.]
At the next General Election we shall be contesting a minimum of a hundred seats. Many of our opponents on the ‘left’, who do not believe in elections, have recently begun to do so, but for the sole purpose of destroying the SLP. Ours is the only party that has the possibility of building a force in Britain for changing the system under which we live. I am proud to be a member. I do not know whether I will be here when the change comes about, but change takes place very suddenly. In 1983 nobody would have believed that mining workers could go on strike for over a year or, a few years earlier, that we could have brought down a Tory government, but we did. So things can change. Maybe you will be the ones who take a leading role in bringing about that change. What we will do is to create the conditions to build a socialism as advocated by the pioneers of our movement, who advocated a different way from the rotten corrupt capitalism system that destroys peoples lives, to transform our society into one wherewe all own and control, not only the means of production, distribution and exchange, but more importantly, our own destiny. The kind of system our forebears wanted, that we have the capability to achieve.
Comrade Scargill finished to loud applause.