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Statement to the NEC and SLP Members on the question of Party Democracy

From the following branches/CSLPs:

Berkshire; Bracknell; Brighton; Ealing, Action & Shepherds Bush; Exeter; Harrow; Swindon; Walthamstow
and over 50 individual party members, including 5 SLP parliamentary candidates

The post-election situation, with a Blair government in office, will sharpen the political struggle within the Labour movement, between those who seek to discipline the movement according to the needs of the government, and those who want to strive for the interests of the working class. In this situation our new party will be tested out. If we are to grow significantly we shall have to show that we can provide leadership in the struggles that are likely to emerge in the face of New Labour’s acceptance of Tory spending limits for the first two years.

We should not make the mistake of believing that the working class will come flocking into our ranks simply because we offer ourselves as an alternative to New Labour. The working class does not turn to a new political party merely on the basis that it says it is an alternative. Workers will judge us by what we do.

From this standpoint we need to develop a perspective for mobilising the working class around demands which express their interests in the given situation: in defence of jobs and services; for increased funding in education, local government, the NHS, based on social needs, rather than limited by Tory spending levels.

In order to develop a practical perspective we need to recruit into the party the best fighting elements within the unions in those areas mentioned.

We need also to build resistance within all the privatised public services, and raise the perspective of social ownership which answers social needs rather than the gravy train for directors and share owners.

In order to develop such a perspective we need a democratic party which draws on the experience and creativity of wide layers of the working class across the spectrum of industries, environmental and community campaigns etc. A perspective cannot be developed from the top down, it needs to be based on the real experience of the working class. Discussion cannot be limited to the NEC.

Moreover, we are a new political party with a membership from a widely different backgrounds. We cannot therefore, take for granted agreement on a whole range of political questions. We have to consciously, and patiently work at developing political agreement, through discussion and joint work. We have yet to seriously begin a discussion on what sort of socialism we are striving for, and how to fight for it. Without agreement on such fundamental issues the party will not develop a common method of work and will not become a material force in the struggle between the classes.

Regrettably, instead of organising a discussion at every level of the party, the NEC has acted as if it were an authoritative leadership based on a long standing political programme. From this standpoint we believe that the methods employed by the NEC threaten the future prospects of our new party. Fundamentally their approach is a top down one, profoundly undemocratic, as shown by the following:

  • Instead of organising a discussion amongst the membership on electoral policy (there was no discussion at the March policy meeting or the founding conference) the NEC itself decided to seek 100 candidates. There has been no discussion of electoral strategy whatsoever. There has been no response from the NEC to the requests for a membership discussion (such as the statement signed by 27 members in the South West).
  • The NEC has decided on ‘party policy’ for ‘British withdrawal’ from the European Union, without a discussion amongst the membership as a whole. To take such a decision on a key political issue without a discussion amongst the membership is an undemocratic way to proceed.
  • Branches have been instructed that they must set up CSLPs (on the basis of a constitution that the members have neither discussed nor voted on) even where there is no real basis for it. As to the question of whether or not we want to build our organisation according to electoral boundaries, this has not even been discussed. The letter sent out by the then General Secretary implied that unless we did so, a branch would not be able to send a delegate to the AGM.
  • A number of members have been effectively expelled by the NEC/General Secretary and a branch closed down, in a bureaucratic and undemocratic manner. People have been excluded for apparent breaches of the constitution (which nobody has voted on) under the following extraordinary conditions:
  • they have not been issued with specific charges.
  • they have not been given a hearing with the right to answer the charges and defend themselves.
  • they have not been allowed a right to appeal.

Such methods are completely unacceptable in a working class, never mind a socialist organisation. They threaten to strangle our party democracy and create a climate of fear. They pose a question as to whether the members have any democratic rights whatsoever. If the GS/NEC can effectively expel people in such a way, this means they have unrestricted power to determine who is or isn’t a member.

Instead of taking advice to prepare for the launch of a newspaper, the leadership rushed it through without ensuring the necessary infrastructure to produce it on a regular basis. It failed to consult the membership on what sort of paper was required. It decided that there would be no debate on it, and no discussion in its pages. It has now decided to centralise its production in Barnsley. As a result of all this, the 'monthly' paper has not been produced on a regular basis.

We joined the SLP because we believed it offered the possibility of building a socialist alternative to New Labour. The experience of a Blair government is likely to create the conditions in which any illusions in it will be shattered by its anti-working class policy. Moreover the Labour Into Power organisational changes which Blair is pushing through at this year's AGM will destroy the last possibility of using that body as a means of pressure on a Labour government.

In order to build such an alternative we need to break with the method of 'generals and foot-soldiers' which existed in the Labour Party. A united SLP will not be created if the leadership tries to hand down orders from above, instead of creating the conditions for a vibrant internal democracy, where debate is not restricted to a short AGM with a crowded agenda, once a year. Political discipline has to be created on the basis of agreement reached in open discussion. It cannot be imposed.

We therefore believe we need:

  • a national discussion bulletin open to all members.
  • a membership discussion on ’policy’ decisions by the NEC, such as in relation to Europe, where the membership have not expressed their opinion.
  • a discussion on the constitution, on which there was no discussion at the March policy conference nor the founding conference, and on which nobody has voted.
  • a disciplinary procedure which incorporates the right to written charges, a hearing in which those charged are able to defend themselves, and a right of appeal to conference against any disciplinary action taken.
  • a membership discussion on our work in the unions, which will be crucial in the post-election situation. The GS’s document ‘Industrial Strategy’ should be circulated to members, and written contributions invited.

We ask the NEC to circulate this statement to the branches for discussion. We would of course, be happy to discuss the questions raised, with the NEC.

Letter to Marxist Bulletin

Comments on the Statement to the NEC re Party Democracy

Broadly I would agree with most of the comments made in the statement. I would disagree with the demand for 'a disciplinary procedure which incorporates the right to written charges, a hearing in which those charged are able to defend themselves, and a right of appeal to conference against any disciplinary action taken on the following grounds:

It implies that it is OK for the NEC to expel/discipline a member as long as there is an appeals procedure and as long as they write down their charges, etc.

I would argue that only local branches (CSLPs) should have the power of sanction: if the sanctioned member has a grievance about the outcome then – and only then – should outside bodies such as the NEC or an appeals panel get involved.

If the NEC, or an outside party, has a complaint about a member, the complaint should go to that member’s local branch and only those local members should decide – by a show of hand (with the accused outside the meeting) whether that member should be disciplined or not, and, if so, how. The decision can be deferred to the NEC, or other body, if approved by CSLP if they prefer. The accused member should be allowed to present his/her case to the local branch before a decision is made. An appeals panel is essential to prevent mis-justice or victimisation.

The SLP should be bound by the CSLP’s decision.

C. G-S
Holborn & St Pancras

(Signed letters and articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editorial collective.)

London Regional Committee

Delegates from London branches attended a London Conference on Sunday 29 June which elected an eight-person London Regional Committee. Three supporters of the SLP Marxist Bulletin stood in the election on a combined platform. We reprint overleaf the statement we distributed at the meeting, which details suggestions for how London SLP should be organised, some points about democracy in the party, and the Marxist Programme for the SLP on which the politics of this bulletin are based.

Although we were not successful in gaining positions on the committee, we believe that standing was important. It is significant that only one other candidate (and none of those who were ultimately successful) produced an election statement for the meeting. Delegates were left to rely on personal knowledge of the various candidates and their views on political issues.

This is an important principle. We cannot pretend that there are no differences of opinion within the SLP – when electing comrades to office we are entitled to know where they stand on various disputed questions. We believe that the practice of election on the basis of political statement is a crucial part of extending democracy within our party.