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The Socialist Party is a Trotskyist group active in England and Wales, with five councillors in local government and two dozen members on trade union executives. The Socialist, a weekly newspaper, and Socialism Today, a monthly magazine, are the Socialist Party's major regular publications. The Socialist Party is a section of the Committee for a Workers' International and has initiated the Campaign for a New Workers' Party (CNWP) and Youth Fight For Jobs.

History

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 Liverpoolmarker City Council and came into conflict with central government, then Conservative led, over finances it claimed had been "stolen".

At the end of the 1980s, just before abandoning its entryist strategy, Militant led the All-Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation, which, through a successful "non-payment" campaign, resulted in the defeat of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's "flag ship" Community Charge legislation.

Both struggles, in Liverpool and against the Poll Tax, involved defiance of what it regarded as iniquitous laws, and the Militant supporting Labour MP Terry Fields was jailed for refusing to pay the poll tax, and expelled, from the Labour Party. Labour Party policy was to work within the law and councils led by the Labour Party collected (or attempted to collect) the Poll Tax, using bailiffs where necessary. 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, whilst claiming to be nothing more than a newspaper at the time, claimed it stood for Labour's core socialist policies.

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 an "open turn", although a minority around Ted Grant broke away to form Socialist Appeal and remain in the Labour Party. 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 Scotlandmarker under the name of Scottish Militant Labour, standing Tommy Sheridan for election from his jail cell.

The Militant tendency changed its name to Militant Labour after leaving the Labour Party. It drew the firm conclusion that the Labour Party had lost its former working class base and had become a "bourgeois" or capitalist party. In 1997, after a further debate, Militant Labour changed its name to the Socialist Party. The ownership of this 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.

Political views

Nationalisation

In the 'What we stand for' column of The Socialist, its weekly paper, the Socialist Party calls for the nationalisation of the "top 150 big companies, banks and building societies that dominate the economy; under democratic working-class control and management". This demand, and the Socialist Party's 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."

Internationalism

Socialist Party on the anti G8 demonstration in Edinburgh
The "socialist transformation" which the Socialist Party seeks would have to be international since:

War and Terrorism

Socialist Party on the anti G8 demonstration in Edinburgh
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 Centermarker in New York in September 2001, Peter Taaffe, the Socialist Party's general secretary, writing in the Socialist Party's newspaper The Socialist, states:

Critique of the former Soviet Union

The Socialist Party argues that the Soviet Unionmarker 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, the young workers state became isolated and as a result "degenerated" under Stalin into a bureaucratic dictatorship. In this and many other ways, the Socialist Party's policies may therefore be termed orthodox Trotskyism.

Campaign for a New Workers' Party

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 Precident John McInally, Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist, Labour left Simeon Andrew and RESPECT representative Rob Hoveman.

Electoral Alliances

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 UK local elections, 2007, it has two councillors in St. Michael's in Coventrymarker (including Dave Nellist), and two in Telegraph Hillmarker ward in Lewishammarker, South Londonmarker. A member of their party was also elected in Huddersfieldmarker but stands under the Save Huddersfield NHS party banner. 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.

At the 2005 UK general election, the Socialist Party only stood in a small number of constituencies, 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.

Trade union work

The Socialist Party is a smaller organisation than Militant was in the 1980s, but has influence in a number of trade unions. As of 2008, 24 Socialist Party members are elected members of trade union national executive committees. It is particularly influential in the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS).

International affiliation

The Socialist Party is affiliated to the Committee for a Workers International, and is indeed the largest of its forty members. The party is also an Observer in the broader European Anticapitalist Left.

Organisation

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 repeats the arguments of Leon Trotsky that there are no guarantees in any form of organisation which can guard against malpractice. The form of organisation that a party takes has a material origin and reflects the material circumstances it finds itself in, as well as how it orientates to those circumstances: "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 continues, 'Trotsky then makes a fundamental point: "Only a correct policy can guarantee a healthy party regime."'.

See also



References

  1. March for quality jobs for young BBC News, Saturday, 11 July 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/8144721.stm
  2. Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union (RMT) website: Youth fight for jobs - National demonstration in London, 28th November, http://www.rmt.org.uk/Templates/Internal.asp?NodeID=128403
  3. This initiative would eventually lead to the foundation of the Scottish Socialist Alliance. The majority of Scottish members, after forming the Scottish Socialist Party, left the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI – the international socialist organisation which the Socialist Party is affiliated to) in early 2001 as the Scottish majority moved away from traditional Trotskyist politics. The CWI in Scotland now works as part of Solidarity – Scotland’s Socialist Movement.
  4. For instance, see the debate between the Socialist Party's Lynn Walsh and a critic at Marxism and the state: an exchange
  5. The Socialist, 'What we stand For', p12, 26 June - 4 July 2007
  6. Trotsky, Leon, The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, p122,3, Pathfinder press, (1977)
  7. Taaffe, Peter, Our Programme and Transitional Demands accessed 26/8/07
  8. Socialism in the 21st Century p. 45
  9. Socialism in the 21st Century p. 10
  10. For instance, The Open Turn debate
  11. Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p126-8


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