The split in the Socialist Party

Submitted by AWL on 14 August, 2019 - 11:29 Author: Pete Boggs
socialist party

The Socialist Party (the group publishing The Socialist, and previously known as Militant) has split after a special congress on 21 July. So has the CWI, the international network of groups of which the SP was the pivot.

SP delegates voted 173-35-0 to “refound” the Committee for a Workers’ International by calling an international conference in 2020. The congress also declared that people continuing to support the existing CWI would place themselves outside of Socialist Party membership, effectively expelling the minority in Britain who support the (apparent) majority internationally within the CWI (bit.ly/cwi-26).

The split concludes months of bitter and increasingly public fighting within the Socialist Party (public due to lack of computer skills by some, rather than to any spirit of open debate).

The faction led by longstanding SP leader Peter Taaffe accused their opponents of “capitulating to petit bourgeois identity politics”. The opposition contended that Taaffe’s standoffish approach to feminist or other broader political mobilisations takes away the opportunity to fight for working-class politics in these movements.

Those who were expelled were clearly unsurprised at this outcome, and held a rally of their supporters from across the CWI on the same day as their expulsion. They have founded a new organisation in Britain, Socialist Alternative.

As this article goes to print, Socialist Alternative members are attending the CWI International Executive Committee (IEC) meeting in Belgium. A provisional committee of the CWI IEC majority has been formed, including representatives from Ireland, Belgium, USA, Brazil, Britain, Austria, China, Greece, and Sweden.

The CWI sans Taaffe claims a majority of groups (Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Hong Kong, Israel/Palestine, Ireland, Italy, Ivory Coast, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Quebec, Romania, Russia, the Spanish state, Sudan, Sweden, Taiwan, Turkey, Tunisia, and the USA, alongside a majority of members in Germany and South Africa) compared to seven held by Taaffe. These assertions tell us little about numbers across the world, however. Outside of Britain, Ireland, and the USA most sections of the CWI are tiny.

Taaffe’s grouping has managed to retain the vast majority of the CWI’s possessions, keeping hold of most social media accounts, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars.

According to a statement on its website, Socialist Alternative claims to have taken the branch majorities in Manchester, Salford, Merseyside, Leicester, Sheffield, Huddersfield, and Brighton. Other areas, particularly London, have remained loyal to Taaffe.

We do not yet know what the balance on either side is among their student members and of their union activists: of particular interest will be what happens in the civil service union PCS, where until recently the SP dominated the union leadership. Some deeper political issues have been revealed by the finalisation of the split.

A statement from Socialist Alternative accuses the Taaffe leadership of conservatism as regards struggles against gender, or race, or sexuality-based oppression, and saying that they have drawn an arbitrary distinction between these movements and class struggle. This is certainly true, and whilst this has been obvious to many on the left for half a century, it is better that these comrades have come to this realisation late rather than never.

However, we now have a situation where there are two organisations in Britain which are almost indistinguishable to any observer. Hopefully over the coming months these differences will be clarified and debated within both groups. There needs to be a sharp reevaluation of the approach to the Labour Party, though that is yet not evidenced to have been much of a thought during the internal debate.

In the SP's report of the 21 July congress, Hannah Sell makes the laughable claim that the Socialist Party have been able to “orientate effectively to those mobilised in support of Jeremy Corbyn, campaigning for the removal of the Blairites and the transformation of Labour into a workers’ party with a socialist programme”. In reality, the Socialist Party have stood at the sidelines.

In some ways, the statements which have come out from Socialist Alternative are not particularly encouraging. They say nothing of the Socialist Party’s sectarian approach to the Labour Party or its utterly reactionary pro-Brexit stance (a big theme with the SP since its 2009 “No 2 EU” campaign especially). Any public criticisms of the Socialist Party’s bureaucratic role in the trade unions (not uniformly, but starkly in PCS) are so oblique as to be unnoticeable.

However, they are now in a position to discuss these issues in a more open environment, and should seek to do this seriously both among themselves and with the broader Trotskyist left.

For those seeking a detailed assessment of the Socialist Party’s parallel woes within its PCS work, a blogpost by SP and PCS veteran John McInally is illuminating.

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