Socialist Party (England and Wales)

Socialist Party (England and Wales)

party_name = Socialist Party
party_articletitle = Socialist Party (England and Wales)
leader = General Secretary: Peter Taaffe; Assistant General Secretary: Hannah Sell; Collective Leadership
foundation = 1997
ideology = Socialism,
position = Far left
international = Committee for a Workers' International
european = European Anticapitalist Left
europarl = "none"
colours = Red
headquarters = London
website = []

The Socialist Party is a Marxist political party active in England and Wales. It has five councillors in local government and two dozen members on the executives of major trade unions. It publishes "The Socialist", a weekly newspaper, and "Socialism Today", a monthly magazine. It is part of the Committee for a Workers' International.


Health Service

The Socialist Party campaigns vigorously against the health service "reforms" [cf for instance [ The Socialist issue 476, 1 march 2007 "NHS crisis: clean out the profiteers"] ] with the majority of "The Socialist" front page articles on the NHS in 2006 [] . It was prominent, alongside the National Pensioners Convention and South London Keep Our NHS Public, in organising a march to meet the TUC lobby of Parliament at Westminster Hall on the 1 November 2006, calling for the TUC to organise a national demonstration against the attacks on the NHS, gaining some media coverage. Left wing Labour MP John McDonald joined the march. [ [ "The Socialist" issue 460, 26 October 2006, "Unite and fight to save the NHS"] . The Socialist Party's leaflet for this demonstration is at [] ]

upport for trade union struggles and public services

A major theme in the Socialist Party's weekly and monthly publications is the support of trade union struggles in defence of jobs, pay, conditions and services.

The Socialist Party currently calls for a legal minimum wage of £8 an hour, and a minimum income of £320, for those on lower incomes whether waged or unwaged. It champions employment protection rights and opposes what it calls anti-union laws.

It supports a "range of policies to achieve full employment" including the introduction of a "maximum 35 hour week without loss of pay". The Socialist Party envisages that workers would gain a reduction of hours without a commensurate loss of pay, i.e. that overtime bonuses would be consolidated into their pay which would therefore remain the same. As a result, the party argues, unemployment would tend to be reduced because companies would need to employ more workers to maintain or increase production levels, instead of attempting to increase the hours of their workforce.

The Socialist Party argues that should any big companies (such as multinationals, etc) complain of economic difficulties in implementing a shorter working week, they should be required to "open their books", that is, allow full inspection of all their accounts by elected trade union representatives of the workforce. If the workforce finds that the company is lacking the economic means, the Socialist Party argues, it should be nationalised under workers' control and management.

The Socialist Party also demands a massive increase in public spending into "healthcare, housing, education, childcare, leisure and community facilities" again arguing that the implementation of such public works are a vital necessity. As well as benefiting the working class as a whole, the Socialist Party envisages that such public works would create more employment on trade union rates of pay. ["The Socialist" Newspaper, issue 484 26 April - 2 May 2007, p12, "What we stand For"] [Sell, Hannah, "Socialism in the 21st century" p47] The Socialist Party argues that should the "bosses" claim that the capitalist economy cannot afford these reforms, then "we cannot afford capitalism" - arguing that in such a case capitalism has failed to provide for the basic needs of the population and should be replaced with a democractic planned economy under workers' control and management.

War, terrorism and the G8


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:

cquote2|"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" [ [ Taaffe, Peter, "The False Methods of Terrorism"] in "The Socialist", 5 October, 2001, accessed 1 July, 2007 ]

ocialism in the 21st Century

In [ "Socialism in the 21st Century"] deputy general secretary Hannah Sell asks why the "modest demands" of the Socialist Party and its allies in the 2001 general election were considered utopian by "The Guardian" journalist Polly Toynbee. [ [,5673,445127,00.html Polly Toynbee, the Guardian, Friday March 2, 2001, "Coalition of Dreamers"] . "Their policies? Take a blank piece of paper, think blue sky and green fields and dream of a world that is a better place than this, unfallen angels in an Eden of goodness where all manner of things shall be well. Every adult and child will be lifted out of poverty, benefits will be restored to 16-year-olds, pensioners will not be means tested so all get the minimum income guarantee, rail and buses renationalised... and a whole lot more besides."]

Sell argues that:

cquote2|Modern capitalism has created riches beyond the wildest dreams of our grandparents and great-grandparents, with the potential for far more...Humankind has developed science and technique to a level that was unimaginable to previous generations... Humanity is capable of space exploration, has mapped the human genome, can modify genes and clone animals, yet we cannot feed the world on the basis of capitalism.

For most of human history it has not been possible to satisfy even the most basic human needs. Now, as a result of the labour and ingenuity of working people, the potential exists to eliminate want forever. The barrier to achieving this is the capitalist system itself. Based as it is on the private ownership of the productive forces (factories, offices, science and technique), capitalism creates immense inequality and deprivation when the potential exists for providing the material components of a decent life for all.|"Socialism in the 21st Century", p12

The Socialist Party claims that "Marx was right" and that the working class today are the "overwhelming majority". Sell argues that Marx based his definition of working class "not by a superficial façade (what kind of car someone owns or whether their house is pebble-dashed) but by both an economic and a social definition". [ [ "Socialism in the 21st Century"] p24. "Today in Britain, millions still work in factories but there are others working in different fields who, nonetheless, produce new value. Others again do not strictly fit this category but are part of the working class because of their social outlook and their economic situation – their wage level and standard of living, etc."]

Critique of the former Soviet Union

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." [. [ "Socialism in the 21st Century"] p45.] Its analysis follows that of Leon Trotsky, who, with Vladimir Lenin, 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. []

Demand for public ownership

The Socialist Party regularly calls for the re-nationalisation of various sectors that have been privatised, such as the railways. It also calls for the nationalisation of the drug companies and other sectors.

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 [For instance, see the debate between the Socialist Party's Lynn Walsh and a critic at [ Marxism and the state: an exchange] ] , 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", ["The Socialist", 'What we stand For', p12, 26 June - 4 July 2007] 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. [Trotsky, Leon, "The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution", p122,3, Pathfinder press, (1977)]

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." [ [ Taaffe, Peter, "Our Programme and Transitional Demands"] accessed 26/8/07]


The "socialist transformation" which the Socialist Party seeks would have to be international since:

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" [ [ "Socialism in the 21st Century"] p10] 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' 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 Socialist 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.


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 early 1980s the Militant tendency played a leading role in the Liverpool City Council's battle for funding it claimed was "stolen" by the Conservative government.

At the end of the 1980s, just before leaving the Labour Party to become a separate party, the Militant tendency 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 battles, in Liverpool and against the Poll Tax, involved defiance of what it regarded as iniquitous laws, and members of the Militant tendency who promoted or followed these policies in the Labour Party, such as Militant supporting Labour Party MP Terry Fields who was jailed for refusing to pay the poll tax, were expelled, (or were liable to be 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 accused the Militant tendency 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, also argued that it stood for Labour's core socialist policies, which, it said, were being abandoned.

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 Scotland under the name of Scottish Militant Labour, standing Tommy Sheridan for election from his jail cell. [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.]

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, and that there was a need for the re-establishment of the basic ideas of socialism, clearly and distinctly. 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 much older Socialist Party of Great Britain. 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.

Organisation and democracy

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. [For instance, [ The "Open Turn" debate] ] 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 [Crick, Michael, "The March of Militant", p126-8] , 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, followed by 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 [ [ Democratic Centralism by Peter Taaffe] ] , 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." [ [ Leon Trotsky: On Democratic Centralism and the Regime (1937)] ] Taaffe continues, 'Trotsky then makes a fundamental point: "Only a correct policy can guarantee a healthy party regime."' [ [ Democratic Centralism by Peter Taaffe] ] .

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 Coventry (including Dave Nellist), and two in Telegraph Hill ward in Lewisham, South London. A member of their party was also elected in Huddersfield 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.

Trade union work

The Socialist Party is a smaller organisation than the Militant of 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 Civil 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.

ee also

* Socialist Party Wales


External links

* [ Socialist Party website]
* [ Socialism Today, the monthly journal of the Socialist Party]
* [ Committee for a Workers' International website]
* [ Campaign for a New Workers Party]
* [ Socialism in the 21st Century]

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