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Clarity Through Debate

A reply to the General Secretary on the SLP constitution : unpublished letter to Socialist News

Socialist News issue 7 carried an article by the SLP General Secretary entitled ‘Tackling danger head-on’ in which Arthur Scargill defended the existing constitution of the SLP and harshly criticised those comrades who want to change it. It is good to see a debate about this happening in our party, especially in view of the congress in December when the constitution will be voted on.

Comrade Scargill is obviously worried about those comrades who are advocating a federal structure of our party. He correctly stated that ‘Socialist Labour must be one organisation’. Any political organisation can only have one programme, one strategy, at the time. Only if the programme has the active support of the members will the words be translated into action. If a socialist organisation falls short of this it will get trapped in contradictions, its actions will become incoherent because the right hand will not know what the left is doing. In short, it will not rise to be the agent of progressive social change but will become the victim of chance.

However, we must never make the opposite mistake either. It would be fatal if the SLP became one closed organisation. We should ensure that our door stays open for those individuals and organisation that support our policies. Therefore it is important that we amend Clause II (4) of the constitution so that members of organisations that are supportive of our aims can join the SLP. This could help us in bringing many militants of our class closer to the SLP. Having SLP members who are also members of other organisations and doing joint work with them could help in overcoming mistrust and political differences. This would be part of the necessary process of joint political work and discussion which will lead to the building of a bigger and more effective working class party.

The exact political development of our party is not yet decided. While we have made a promising start we are internally fairly divided. Comrade Scargill wants to overcome this by degree: Either you accept the constitution or else . . .

Other comrades seem to approach the problem from the opposite end. They want to turn a vice into a virtue. The divisions and differences between the ‘left’ and the ’right’, between Communists and Labourites are presented as the recipe for a new kind of party, one in which reformists and revolutionaries enjoy ‘a peaceful co-existence’.

While it is obvious that the members of our party come from diverse political backgrounds, it cannot be assumed that the SLP can stay a party of people with diverse politics indefinitely. In the long-term one or the other political ideology must become the dominant one. Which one this is going to be depends on many factors. Our task ahead is immense. We have to work out the best strategy of how to approach it. This cannot be done by demanding discipline. The strongest discipline is the voluntary discipline which is based on conviction. And conviction can only be achieved through open and honest debate.

Christoph Lenk
Dulwich & West Norwood CSLP