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|Leader||Collective Leadership
|General Secretary||Peter Taaffe|
|Assistant General Secretary||Hannah Sell|
1964 - 1990
Socialist Party (England and Wales)
1997 - Present
|Headquarters||London, United Kingdom|
|National affiliation||Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition|
|International affiliation||Committee for a Workers' International|
|European affiliation||European Anticapitalist Left|
|European Parliament group||None|
|Local government |
|Politics of the United Kingdom
The Socialist Party is a Trotskyist party active in England and Wales. It publishes the weekly newspaper The Socialist and the monthly magazine Socialism Today. It is a section of the Committee for a Workers' International.
The Socialist Party was formerly the Militant tendency, founded in 1964 as the "Marxist voice of Labour and Youth" and operating in the Labour Party. In the 1980s, the Militant tendency was dominant in the Labour group of Liverpool City Council, which came into conflict with the Conservative-led central government over its finances, and in the All-Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation, which led a successful "non-payment" campaign against the Community Charge.
Militant's battles in Liverpool and against the Poll Tax involved defiance of what it regarded as iniquitous laws. Militant supporting Labour MP Terry Fields was jailed for refusing to pay the poll tax and expelled from the Labour Party for defying the law. The Labour Party found the Militant tendency guilty of operating as an entryist political party with a programme and organisation entirely separate from that of the Labour Party. The Militant denied this, claiming it stood for Labour's core socialist policies, whilst the 'right-wing' leadership were the real infiltrators, intent on changing the Labour Party into a capitalist party.
In 1991, there was a debate within the Militant tendency as to whether or not to cease working within the Labour Party. At a special conference 93% of delegates voted for the "Open Turn", although a minority around Ted Grant broke away to form Socialist Appeal and remain in the Labour Party; Ted Grant's supporters internationally formed the International Marxist Tendency. This debate ran alongside a parallel debate on the future of Scottish politics. The result was that the experiment of operating as an "open party" was first undertaken in Scotland under the name of Scottish Militant Labour, standing Tommy Sheridan for election from his jail cell.
Militant changed its name to Militant Labour after leaving the Labour Party. The former organisations Militant International Review, founded in 1969, became monthly and was renamed Socialism Today in 1995. In 1997, Militant Labour changed its name to the Socialist Party, and its Militant newspaper was renamed The Socialist in the same year. The ownership of the party's name has been contested by the Socialist Party of Great Britain founded in 1904. As a result, the new party is frequently known as "The Socialist Party of England and Wales". Due to the requirement to register party names with the Electoral Commission, the Socialist Party uses the description 'Socialist Alternative' on ballot papers.
In 2011, the Socialist Party gave prominent support to the Jarrow March for Jobs, a 330-mile march from Jarrow in South Tyneside to London to highlight youth unemployment, supported by several MPs eight trade unions and the Daily Mirror newspaper. Kevin Maguire, associate editor of the Mirror, spoke at the Jarrow launch rally, following the Socialist Party's Coventry councillor Dave Nellist, as featured on a number of Socialist Party videos about the event.. The Jarrow march featured prominently at the Socialist Party's Socialism 2011 weekend event in November 2011, which coincided with the marcher's arrival in London..
The Socialist Party's first issue of 2010, headlined "Rage Against Unemployment" and written by Youth Fight for Jobs national organiser Sean Figg, who took part in the Jarrow March for Jobs, argues that young people are likely to suffer 'permanent psychological scars' from unemployment. Figg calls for the right to a "decent job for all", with a "living wage" of at least £8 an hour, and an end to university fees. Figg demands that the government "bail out young people" as it had the banks, stating that "capitalist politicians" will claim the cost would be 'too high'.
Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist calls climate change "the outcome of a gigantic market failure" citing a United Nations report. He places the blame for climate change on "big business". In an issue of The Socialist headlined "Climate change: 'gigantic market failure'", the Socialist Party calls for "green job creation", proposing that unemployed construction workers be employed to build "new and affordable housing, insulating existing properties and installing solar panels". It also suggests retooling the car industry for the production of lower emission vehicles and demands a "massive investment into renewable and sustainable energy sources" with the "profit motive eliminated".
The Socialist Party opposes the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, calling for the withdrawal of troops. It opposes both terrorism and also the war on terror. It joins the protests against the Group of Eight (G8) meetings as part of the Committee for a Workers' International.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York in September 2001, Peter Taaffe, the Socialist Party's general secretary, writing in the Socialist Party's newspaper The Socialist, states:
|“||The Socialist has been forthright in its condemnation of those who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. We described their methods as those of "small groups employing mass terrorism".
At the same time, we have not given any support to George Bush or Tony Blair, who call for a "war against terrorism", yet support state terror against defenceless and innocent people in the neo-colonial world.
However, our approach is not shared by all, even amongst other socialist groups. Some are equivocal or refuse to 'condemn' these attacks. This attitude is profoundly mistaken and risks alienating the majority of working class people, driving them into the arms of Blair and Bush and their 'war' preparations. Moreover, it flies in the face of a long-held principled opposition of socialists to these methods.
— Peter Taaffe, The False Methods of Terrorism
In December 2009, the Socialist Party demanded what it called "socialist nationalisation" as the only way to save the manufacturing industry. This marks a response by the Socialist Party to the nationalisation of major banks by the Labour Government, beginning with the nationalisation of Northern Rock in February 2008.
In the 'What we stand for' column of The Socialist, its weekly paper, the Socialist Party calls for "a socialist government to take into public ownership the top 150 companies and banks that dominate the British economy, and run them under democratic working-class control and management. Compensation to be paid only on the basis of proven need." The Socialist Party thus defines its "socialist" nationalisation to include at least three distinct features: no compensation except on the basis of proven need; democratic workers' control and management, and that the nationalised industries should be part of a "plan of production".
In an end of year statement on the December 2009 Pre-budget, an article under the name of the Socialist Party deputy general secretary, Hannah Sell, indicated the Socialist Party's response to the banking nationalisations. Sell argued that the trade unions should demand "nationalisation of all the major financial institutions", with compensation paid only to small shareholders and depositors on the basis of proven need. However Sell added that this should be just a first step to the "unification of all the banks into one democratically controlled financial system" and called for the introduction of a state monopoly of foreign trade.
On workers' control and management, Sell argues that a nationalised finance sector could be "run by and for the mass of the population". She suggests that this could be done through "majority representation" at all levels. Representatives are to be drawn from workers in the banking unions, "and the wider working class and labour movement", and some also the government.
The "socialist transformation" which the Socialist Party seeks would have to be international since:
|“||Socialism has to be international. It's impossible to create socialism in one country, surrounded by a world capitalist market. Nonetheless there is an enormous amount that could be achieved by a socialist government after it came to power as part of a transition from capitalism to socialism.||”|
— Socialism in the 21st Century, p41
The Socialist Party argues that the Soviet Union was not socialist: "the regimes in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were not genuinely socialist, but a grotesque caricature." Its analysis follows that of Leon Trotsky, who, with Vladimir Lenin and others, led the October 1917 Russian revolution.
The Socialist Party argues that neither Lenin nor Trotsky wished to establish an isolated socialist state. They argue that Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks defended and advanced the gains of the revolution of February 1917 by carrying through the October revolution. They emphasise Lenin and Trotsky's call on workers in the advanced capitalist countries to carry through the socialist transformation of society. This, they say, would have been a step towards the goal of a world socialist federation and would have seen those countries come to the aid of the economically and industrially underdeveloped Russia. However, this was not successful and the advanced capitalist countries invaded, blockaded and imposed trade sanctions on the young workers' state. Isolated, the Socialist Party argues, the Russian revolution inevitably "degenerated" under Stalin into a bureaucratic dictatorship. In this and many other ways, the Socialist Party's policies may therefore be termed orthodox Trotskyism.
Although The Socialist Party is a numerically smaller organisation than Militant was in the 1980s, it has a larger number of members in leading trade union positions, including PCS Assistant General Secretary Chris Baugh, PCS Vice-President John McInally, former POA General Secretary Brian Caton and UNISON NEC member Roger Bannister amongst others. In 2008, the Socialist Party had 24 members on trade union national executive committees. It is particularly influential in the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS).
A number of Socialist Party members have also held key positions in workplaces where disputes took place in 2009, such as Keith Gibbson who was elected to the Lindsey Oil Refinery strike committee and Rob Williams who was trade union convenor  at the Linamar car parts plant in Swansea.
The Socialist Party's demand for nationalisation and its longstanding practice of running in elections, has led some critics to label the Socialist Party as reformist, though the party argues that its method is based on Trotsky's Transitional Programme, and that this demand would lead to the socialist transformation of society, with a "socialist plan of production... to meet the needs of all" whilst "protecting our environment."
Critics from within the Trotskyist tradition have sometimes argued that the Socialist Party misunderstands Trotsky's Transitional Programme. Since 'transitional demands' are an attempt to link today's struggles with the struggle for socialism, critics argue that Trotsky's transitional demand regarding the need for strike committees should be raised, and that the Socialist Party should argue for these strike committees to take control of the workplaces. They argue that this is preferable to arguing for nationalisation since nationalisation does not show how workers would reach workers' control of the workplaces.
The Socialist Party argues that the sections of Trotsky's Transitional Programme which argue for the 'expropriation of separate groups of capitalists' and of the 'private banks' can be represented as nationalisation, as long the demand includes workers' control and management of the nationalised industries. For this reason, the Socialist Party's call for public ownership in the 'What We Stand For' column in 'The Socialist' newspaper, is followed by the demand for democratic working class control and management, as well as "Compensation to be paid on the basis of proven need", as judged by the workers once in control and management of the industry in question.
The Socialist Party criticises what it terms the "lavish" compensation given to the bosses of nationalised industries in the past, and links up the demand for nationalisation to demands for the workers to rely on their own control and management of the nationalised industries, and to the need for the socialist transformation of society itself. It argues that this is a valid modern interpretation of the Transitional Programme's conception.
At the outset of the 'Name change' debate which led to the establishment of the Socialist Party, Taaffe argued in 1995: "To merely repeat statements and formulas, drawn up at one period, but which events have overtaken, is clearly wrong" and that it would be fatal "to put forward abstract formulas as a substitute for concrete demands, clear slogans, which arise from the experiences of the masses themselves". Briefly discussing Trotsky's demands regarding factory committees, Taaffe comments that: "The shop stewards committees embody the very idea of 'factory committees' advocated by Trotsky."
The Socialist Party argues that Labour Party leader Tony Blair "has deprived the working people in Britain of any kind of political representation" and campaigns for a new mass party of the working class based on the trade unions and the working class movement. It argues that political representatives such as Members of Parliament should only receive the "average workers wage", and its MPs will only take the average wage of a skilled worker in the same way that Labour MPs who supported the Militant tendency (the forerunner of the Socialist Party) -Terry Fields, Dave Nellist and Pat Wall - did in the 1980s.
In November 2005 at its annual 'Socialism' event, the Socialist Party formally launched the 'Campaign for a New Workers' Party' along with other socialists, left activists and trade unionists with the aim of persuading individuals, campaigners and trade unions to help set up and back a new broad left alternative to New Labour that would fight for working class people. The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT union) held a conference in January 2006 to address what it calls 'The crisis in working class representation', in which Socialist Party councillor and Campaign for a New Workers' Party chair Dave Nellist was invited to speak. Most of the speakers were in favour of a broad left alternative to New Labour. The remaining speakers, such as MP John McDonnell, wished it well. The Campaign for a New Workers' Party held a conference on 19 March 2006, which was attended by around 1,000 people, to formally launch the Campaign for a New Workers' Party.
At the 2008 CNWP conference a discussion forum was hosted by the campaign which was addressed by RMT general secretary Bob Crow, PCS Vice-President John McInally, Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist, Labour left Simeon Andrew and RESPECT representative Rob Hoveman.
The Socialist Party was one of the founders of the local Socialist Alliance groups, but it left in 2001.
Since leaving the Socialist Alliance, the Socialist Party has run candidates in elections as Socialist Alternative. Following the local elections in 2007, it had two councillors in St. Michael's in Coventry (including Dave Nellist), and two in Telegraph Hill ward in Lewisham, South London. A member of the party was also elected in Huddersfield but stood under the Save Huddersfield NHS party banner. In the local elections of 2010, however, the party lost one of the two councillors in Coventry and both councillors in Lewisham.
In February 2005, the Socialist Party announced plans to contest the 2005 parliamentary elections as part of a new electoral alliance called the Socialist Green Unity Coalition. Several former components of the Socialist Alliance that did not join Respect also joined the SGUC. The Socialist Party only stood in a small number of constituencies, however, receiving a total of just over 9,000 votes.
In March 2009, the Socialist Party joined No to the EU – Yes to Democracy, a left-wing alter-globalisation coalition led by RMT union leader Bob Crow, for the 2009 European Parliament elections. No2EU received 153,236 votes or 1% of the national vote.
In January 2010, the Socialist Party announced the formation of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) to contest the 2010 general election. Unlike No2EU, the RMT is not formally backing the coalition but Bob Crow, the RMT leader, will serve on its steering committee. The Scotsman newspaper names Bob Crow as the coalition's leader. According to the Scotsman, policies include: "commitment to public ownership of industry, banking and utilities; a promise not to implement cuts in public services; an end to public bail-outs of the banking industry; improved trade union rights; and an end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq." The 38 TUSC candidates who ran in the elections pooled 12,275 votes.  The four Socialist Party candidates who still stood under the name Socialist Alternative received an additional 3,298 votes.
The Socialist Party is part of the Committee for a Workers International which has sections throughout the world.
The Socialist Party is a membership based organisation, with branches in localities where it has members. The annual Conference or Congress is the decisive body of the party. Branches send delegates (the number of delegates per branch is proportional to the size of the branch), to regional and national bodies, conferences and decision making annual congresses.
At the annual congresses the national organisers have only a consultative vote, and must win support for new policies. The exit from the Labour Party in 1991, and the change of name of Militant Labour to Socialist Party, are two major debates in which a substantial exchange of views took place in a period of discussion and debate at branch, regional and national level, with a number of documents circulated, before a Congress at which the matter was concluded by a vote. After a conference decision, members are generally expected to abide by the views agreed upon, at least publicly, whilst discussion may continue, or be returned to later, within the party until all concerns are addressed.
Congress elects a National Committee, which in turn elects an Executive Committee of around a dozen or so members which runs the party on a day-to-day basis. Peter Taaffe is general secretary, and Hannah Sell deputy general secretary. In 2007 the Socialist Party Executive Committee of ten or eleven has a majority of women members. Areas of responsibility for the executive apart from the development of general policy matters are various campaigning roles, such as NHS, workplace and youth campaigns, together with editorial responsibilities for The Socialist, Socialism Today and other issues such as finance raising.
The Socialist Party argues that its method of elections to the National Committee does not promote individuals, but instead is conceived as the selection of a rounded-out team, including both experienced as well as young or less experienced but promising members, together with members from the trade unions and youth and other aspects of the Socialist Party's work. Each geographical region of the Socialist Party is felt to be in need of inclusion. In general, the Executive Committee, after a period of discussion with regional representatives, presents to the National Committee its "slate" or list of members selected from all aspects of work of the party. After any amendments from the National Committee, this list is proposed by the outgoing National Committee to the annual congress.
In general, in presenting the slate to annual congress, the proposed members are listed primarily by region of the country, with an additional list of trade union and youth members, along with other variations from time to time. A session of conference is usually set aside to discuss the slate, with an executive member explaining the reasoning behind the list, and outlining the proposed changes, followed by contributions to the discussion by delegates.
Congress can approve, amend or reject the list, proposing an alternative. From time to time in the history of the Militant, the forerunner of the Socialist Party, this list has been amended at conference, although in the view of the Socialist Party, the inclusive approach of the consultation process makes this rare, and has not happened at Socialist Party congresses so far.
The Socialist Party argues that this method is an example of aspects of genuine Democratic centralism, where the widest democratic discussion and debate takes place to attempt to reach agreement before any formal meeting takes place, followed by a meeting and a vote, after which, especially in times of serious struggle, the party is expected to pull together in the direction agreed. In a document written by General Secretary Peter Taaffe in 1996 for the Socialist Party's predecessor Militant Labour, Taaffe suggests that the term 'Democratic centralism' has "Unfortunately... been partially discredited, the concept mangled and distorted by Stalinism in particular. It has come to mean, for uninformed people, something entirely opposite to its original meaning." Taaffe argues that the: "right-wing Labour leadership who usually hurl insults against the Marxists on the alleged undemocratic character of 'democratic centralism' themselves actually practice an extreme form of 'bureaucratic centralism', as the experience of the witch-hunt against Militant and others on the left in the Labour Party demonstrated."
Discussing the perceived 'dangers' of democratic centralism, Taaffe has argued that according to Leon Trotsky there are no guarantees in any form of organisation which can guard against malpractice and the form of organisation that a party takes has a material origin that reflects the circumstances it finds itself in, as well as how it orientates to them.: "The regime of a party does not fall ready made from the sky but is formed gradually in the struggle. A political line predominates over the regime." Taaffe has also written, 'Trotsky then makes a fundamental point: "Only a correct policy can guarantee a healthy party regime."'.