A recent public meeting of the Socialist Labour Party (SLP), held in Conway Hall’s Bertrand Russell Room, gave a startling measure of the decline of Arthur Scargill’s political credibility. Most of his own members could not be bothered to turn up – we could only recognise four present or past members, and these were outnumbered by the five members of the Spartacist League (a small Trotskyite organisation) who turned up to gloat at the funeral of his party.
The modest scale of the venue, and the fact that the attendance at the meeting at best reached 23, contrasted starkly with the old familiar boasts of “packed meetings” and a special relationship with the rank and file of the trade unions.
A party that has something useful to tell workers about the struggle of the class to emancipate itself from capitalism need have no shame about the narrow scope of its present influence. However, what has brought Scargill low is not that the message he brings is pitched too high for workers to grasp. It is precisely because he insisted on dumbing down his own party, in the mistaken belief that this would increase its influence in the trade-union movement, that he now has the worst of both worlds: a voice crying in the wilderness with nothing of particular interest to say.
Margaret Sharkey in the chair set the apologetic tone for the evening by explaining that, although she was the London organiser, she herself had not been “publicly active”. London was such a big place, you know, so it was a struggle to pull people together. There followed a half-hearted speech from Nusrat Sen on the question of organising migrant workers, concluding with the following ‘analysis’:
(a) the only way to organise migrants is through the trade unions;
(b) the trade unions are in the hands of the right wing; and
(c) therefore we must win the trade-union leaders to the SLP!
However, since the SLP approach to winning over the trade unions is to flatter backwardness and tail-end the class, migrant workers need not hold their breaths waiting for the SLP to sort things out.
After this ‘warm up’, Scargill began his own speech, on the topic ‘The Case for Socialism’. As ever, he spoke well when it came to decrying the ills of capitalism and painting in bright colours the socialist future. But at no point in the lengthy and sometimes rambling speech was there any attempt to explain how the working class was to make the transition from one world to the other.
Indeed, he made reference to the fact that “Britain and the rest of the world is facing an economic and political crisis nearly as bad or worse than in 1929”, adding that the “the cause of the current crisis is not shortages but capitalism, which needs maximum profit”. But instead of then walking through the door he had pushed ajar – instead of explaining how the renewed overproduction crisis of capitalism is transforming the economic and political landscape and opening up future avenues of revolutionary development – he slipped back into tracing the genealogy of his desiccated party back to the revolutionary SLP of James Connolly, seeking comfort in borrowed greatness.
In the absence of any analysis of the revolutionary road ahead, Scargill settled back onto his favourite hobbyhorse. Britain had over a thousand years of coal reserves, so who needs to rely on importing coal from South Africa and oil from the Middle East? On the back of indigenous resources we could turn the “economic pyramid” back the right way up, going back to the good old days when the bottom 80 percent was manufacture and the top 20 percent was services, instead of the other way round. That way we can afford decent hospitals and schools again …
Instead of offering a Marxist analysis of what is actually happening – the hollowing out of the industrial base as imperialism relies increasingly on revenues derived from the export of capital – and drawing out the revolutionary tasks with which this material development confronts the proletariat, Scargill indulges in a Little England fantasy. In this fairy tale, plucky British manufacture is reborn, producing a new generation of industrial workers who will flood into the unions, which by then of course will be marching behind the SLP …
For all the talk of “out of Europe, back into the world”, the real centre of balance of this vision is deeply insular and backward looking. It should be no surprise that the flourishing of the old NHS should be attributed exclusively to the excellence of British manufacture, with not a word about the imperialist superprofits which made such post-war concessions to the working class at all feasible, let alone the enormous windfall benefit the health service receives from the services of many thousands of migrant workers.
“Without a revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement.” What more striking proof of Lenin’s dictum could there be than the reduction of Arthur Scargill and the SLP to this level of political bankruptcy?
This once formidable leader of the miners’ strike of 1984/85 was never broken by the police thuggery dealt out by the state at Orgreave and elsewhere, never broken by all the dirty tricks and smear campaigns of MI5, MI6 and the tame capitalist media, and never broken by endless persecution from the corrupt bourgeois legal system.
None of these attacks prevailed on him to abandon his principled stand against pit closures. More remarkable yet, none of them prevented him from taking the bold step of breaking the organisational link with the Labour party in 1996 and establishing the Socialist Labour Party.
No, what finally broke Scargill and the party he led was not the capitalist enemies without, but his own enemy within: a deep engrained hostility to Marxist-Leninist theory. It was the inability of the SLP to match its institutional separation from Labour with an ideological divorce from the politics of social democracy that caused its downfall.
The leadership faction around Scargill made the fatal error of confusing the remedy with the disease and expelled Marxism Leninism – thereby at one swoop depriving the party of its most tireless and principled supporters. Sooner than see the SLP fulfil its potential as the party of revolutionary socialism, the leadership clique preferred to close down the party schools, depoliticise the party literature and boot out the best cadres. In short, what the capitalist state failed to destroy instead fell victim to Scargill’s own political cowardice.
To compare the very small with the very large, who can forget the manner in which the Soviet Union, which survived everything imperialism could throw at it for seventy years – wars of intervention, economic boycott, fascist invasion, nuclear encirclement – in the end collapsed like a house of cards, a helpless victim of its own long-incubating revisionist malady?
Gorbachev’s treachery and Yeltsin’s counterrevolution were but the concluding act of a revisionist drama that began with the Khruschevites. So it was that the many-million strong CPSU and Red Army proved incapable of seeing off the motley rabble of petty-bourgeois scoundrels, bourgeois nationalists, imperialist dupes, mafia scum and corrupted party officials who muddled their way through to counterrevolution whilst all the decent forces of socialism stood aghast and disbelieving.
And so it is that Scargill is now reduced to a pale shadow of his former self. He still half-heartedly keeps the faith against Trotskyism, begging his Trot tormentors “Please do not ask me to support Trotsky, I won’t. Our party is a Marxist party.” But, now permanently disconnected from the revolutionary science of Marxism Leninism, this is a paper allegiance without content or consequences.
When challenged by one of the Spartacist League vultures to blame Stalin for the loss of socialism in the USSR, Scargill replied in lukewarm terms. No, he did not agree it all started to go wrong with Stalin: “I was there in 1957, there was denial of freedom [the freedom to exploit! – Proletarian] but the economy was equal to the US and Britain. When I went back when Brezhnev was there, the economy was dying.”
In this answer, though it ducked the opportunity to speak up boldly for Stalin and Bolshevism, could nevertheless be discerned a faint echo from Scargill’s happier days, when he could stand in front of a hall full of comrades celebrating the October revolution and pledge himself and the SLP to “the road of revolution, the road of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin”. What a poignant contrast with this sad and sorry squib of a meeting.
We can glean no pleasure from witnessing Scargill’s sad fate, but we can and should learn a lesson from his negative example: without revolutionary theory, even the most awkward of ‘awkward squads’ will ultimately fail to take the working class one step closer to socialism.
All the more reason, then, for communists to continue a relentless struggle against social democracy in all its forms.