One of the Trotskyists groups, Militant, has decided to call itself "Socialist Party" and to put up candidates for elections under this name, despite the fact that we have been using this name for over 90 years.
This is the name we used on the ballot paper at the last general election (when Militant was campaigning for the laughable objective of "Labour to Power on a Socialist Programme!"), in the 1994 European elections, and in the Littleborough and Saddleworth parliamentary by-election in 1995 as well as in various local council elections and a council by-election in Lambeth last year. It is also the name under which we will be standing 5 candidates (in Glasgow, London, Jarrow, Easington and Livingston) in this year's general election.
We contest Militant's right to use this name, on two grounds. First, it is the name we use and one political group cannot simply come along and take the name used by another, long-standing and well-established, political party. This is an elementary democratic principle. To work properly, political democracy depends on people being able to make an informed choice, one condition of which is that different political organisations should be distinguished by separate names. Nobody is likely to confuse our policies and those of a Trotskyist organisation, but when a Trotskyist organisation uses the same name as us there is bound to be some confusion, so undermining the democratic process (not that Trotskyists, as Leninists, will be concerned about that).
Secondly of course, Trotskyists aren't socialists anyway. But who are Militant and where did they come from?
Who are Militant?
In the 1940s three Trotskyists arrived in Britain: Tony Cliff (fromPalestine), Ted Grant(from South Africa) and Gerry Healy (from Ireland). Each was destined to become the guru of one of the three main Trotskyist sects that were to emerge in Britain.
For a while all three worked together as members of the same organisation, the Revolutionary Communist Party, which existed for a few years after the War as an independent Trotskyist party. Then they went their separate ways, except in so far as all three of them joined the Labour Party.
Cliff, who had come to accept the view that Russia was state capitalist, started a paper that later become Intertional Socialism, and a group that is now the SWP. Healy and Grant stuck with the Trotskyist dogma that Russia, even under Stalin, was a "Workers' State" albeit a "degenerate" one, but they fell out over some obscure question of "tactics". Healy started a group which eventually became the Socialist Labour League and then the Workers Revolutionary Party. Grant ran a paper called Socialist Fight which was forever praising the supposed achievements of Russia's "planned economy" but still managed to attract a following amongst young Labourites on Merseyside. It later changed its name to Militant.
Until 1968 all three groups pursued the Trotskyist tactic of boring from within the Labour Party known as "entryism". By far the most successful was Healy who managed to capture the Labour Party's youth section, the Young Socialists, and their paper Keep Left.
After 1968, and the students' revolt and general strike in France which convinced them that they no longer needed the Labour Party as an intermediary to "make contact with the working class", both Healy and Cliff withdrew their followers from the Labour Party and eventually set up their own parties and put up candidates against Labour (Cliff only briefly, Healy with money from Colonel Gaddafi).
Grant, however, decided to hang on inside the Labour Party where he now had a virtual monopoly of the Trotskyist franchise. In one sense this was a shrewd move and in the '80s he was to be even more successful in infiltrating Labour than Healy had been in the '60s.
Grant's group, ostensibly just another pro-Labour paper like Tribune but in reality an undercover vanguard party named the Revolutionary Socialist League organised on strict Bolshevik lines, virtually captured Liverpool Labour Party (Derek Hatton has been their best-known member) and managed to get two of their members, Terry Fields and Dave Nellist, elected as Labour MPs. From the mid-80s the Labour machine counter-attacked. Grant and his followers were booted out of the Labour Party and Fields andNellist were de-selected.
Militant was now on its own, in what it had up till then regarded as the political wilderness. What to do? Was political life possible outside the Labour Party? Grant himself didn't think so and was for carrying on with "entryism" and trying to get back into the Labour Party clandestinely. Most of the other leaders regarded this as pointless; they were outside the Labour Party and would have to make the best of a bad job by acting as an independent organisation even if still telling people to vote Labour.
Grant was eventually expelled at the beginning of 1992 and yet another Trotskyist sect was bom. Militant changed its (public) name from Militant to Militant Labour. The tactic was adopted of putting up candidates against Labour at local council elections and by-elections, with some success in that one or two were elected councillors, in Glasgow and Liverpool.
When Scargill left the Labour Party last year and set up his "Socialist Labour Party", to an outsider it might have seemed obvious that Militant Labour and the Scargill Labour Party should join together — after all, both of them had the same policy, militant Labourism — but this was to overlook the fact that Scargill was a Stalinist who was determined that his party should not be infiltrated and perhaps taken over by some Trotskyist group (not that this has prevented some of the lesser Trotskyist sects having a go).
Talks between Scargill and Militant did take place but broke down, so Militant decided to set up a rival Old Labour party of its own. But what name to call it? Apparently, there were three options, Militant Labour Party, Militant Socialist Party and Socialist Party.
The name "Socialist Party" of course wasn't free as the leaders of Militant were well aware. Being part of it themselves, they are not ignorant of the minority political scene in Britain and have seen us selling the Socialist Standard ("journal of the Socialist Party") at the same demonstrations and on the same street corners as they sell Militant. Their leaders have been aware of our existence since their foundation and we have engaged them in formal debate and long intervened at their meetings in opposition.
This, however, did not stop Militant's leadership recommending "Socialist Parry" as the preferred option to a special conference held at the end of last November. According to the report in Militant (6 December), there was some opposition. Although 71.4 percent of delegates voted for, 24.8 percent voted for "Militant Socialist Party" and 3 percent for "Militant Labour".
So, an element of confusion has been introduced onto the British political scene: there are now two organisations calling themselves Socialist Party and two organisations putting up candidates at elections under this name. This is entirely the fault of a dishonest and cynical move by Militant to try to hijack the name used by an already-existing political organisation.
Naturally, we will oppose this move in every way we can but we are obliged to issue a warning to our sympathisers and others who know us: look twice before buying any pamphlet bearing the name "Socialist Party"; if you find it praising pre-Yeltsin Russia's "planned economy" or advocating fantastic reforms of capitalism then (obviously) it is not published by us but will be the usual Trotskyist nonsense. If you go to a meeting advertised as by the "Socialist Party" and the speaker advocates a "£6 minimum wage" or "Nationalise the Top 200 Monopolies" or that "the TUC call a General Strike Now" you will know you have been misled; stand up and say that the speaker is a fraud for pretending to be speaking on behalf of the Socialist Party.
Labourism with knobs on
But quite apart from the dishonesty of trying to steal our name, Militant does not stand for socialism It stands for state capitalism as its long-term aim while campaigning in the present for mostly impracticable reforms of capitalism.
There is a twisted logic to their campaigning for impracticable reforms. As followers of Lenin, Trotskyists hold that workers are incapable of directly understanding socialist ideas; at most, they can only acquire a "trade union consciousness" which reflects itself on the political field as support for reformist, Labour Party-type politics. In these circumstances to campaign directly for socialism (as we in the real Socialist Party do) would be to cast pearls before swine, mere "abstract propagandism". Instead, what a "vanguard party" must do is to try to use this workers' reformist discontent as a battering ram to overthrow the government and seize power for themselves as Lenin and the Bolsheviks had done in Russia in November 1917.
Trotsky recommended that this be done by offering workers reforms (called "transitional demands") which the vanguard party knows perfectly well can't be obtained under capitalism, in the expectation that when these reforms are not granted the workers will turn against the government and support a Trotskyist coup d'etat.
This of course is pure science-fiction politics that is only likely to come true on the planet Zanussi but (fortunately) not on planet Earth. Imagine what a Trotskyist dictatorship would be like; not too difierent from a Stalinist one, we would suppose.
In the context of the electoralist tactic that Militant has now adopted, "transitional demands" translate as extravagant election promises of reforms to be achieved under capitalism, bait offered to the mass of worker-electors who are still perceived of as not being able to move beyond a reformist, Labourist consciousness.
At election times, Militant Labour appears as a super-reformist party, promising the same sort of reforms as Labour only bigger and better ones. Thus, if Labour promises a minimum wage of £3 an hour, Militant Labour promises one of £6. If Labour promises to increase spending on education and the health service by 10 percent, Militant Labour promises to increase it by 50 percent. If Labour promises the highest achievable level of employment, Militant promises full employment, and so on. In other words, there is no attempt to combat reformist illusions within the working class (the illusion that capitalism can be reformed to work in their interest); just the opposite in fact, such illusions are encouraged and magnified.
Militant, by accommodating itself to this attitude instead of campaigning to change it, is encouraging workers to believe that their problems can be solved within capitalism if only those they elect as local councillors and MPs were more demanding and more determined.
It is in fact on this basis that Militant's local councillors have been elected: as militant Labourists, as people who some traditional Labour voters feel will sincerely fight for the reforms that New Labour under Blair has abandoned. "Militant Labour", the name under which they were elected, was an entirely accurate description as what those who elected them wanted was someone to fight in a more militant way for Labour's traditional aims.
Militant's Ideal World
Militant would deny this charge of encouraging reformism — of in fact being militant reformists — by pointing out that they do say that capitalism can never work in the workers' interests. This is so, but by "capitalism" they only mean competitive, private enterprise capitalism, to which their alternative is planned, state-run capitalism not socialism.
Last year Militant (22 March) carried an article headed "Fighting for our ideal world" which ended: "Militant Labour demands:
• An end to slave labour schemes;
• £6 per hour minimum wage;
• The right to join a recognised trade union"
Hardly an inspiring ideal (and this was in an article aimed at young people!). Normally, it is true, Militant's "ideal" is not quite as crass as this but the principle is the same. In 1995, at the time the Labour Party was preparing to ditch Clause 4, Militant brought out a pamphlet called What is Socialism? in which they declared:
Militant Labour believes it is possible to achieve a minimum wage, full employment, good education and health services. Homelessness can be a thing of the past. We can end inequality and poverty.
But we would also need an economy which produces more than it does today and produced different things: for example, fewer office blocks and more houses at affordable prices or rents, fewer weapons and more public transport.
This ideal world of higher wages and affordable prices is to be achieved by nationalising all "the major companies and financial institutions".
Such wholesale nationalisation would not be socialism which is based on the common (as opposed to state) ownership and democratic control of productive resources, with goods and services being produced and distributed directly to satisfy people's needs with the disappearance of wages, prices, pensions, banks, money and all the other products of a buying-and-selling society such as capitalism.
Militant's "ideal society" turns out to be a state capitalism in which a government, supposedly ruling on behalf of the working class (but in reality controlled by and for the benefit of the leaders of the vanguard party), tries to plan the wages -profits-money system and make it work in the interest of all.
They give Cuba, and previously Russia, as an example of the sort of "planned", "non-capitalist" economy they have in mind ("Can Cuba Survive?",Militant, 22 March 1996), not as a perfect example but as a sufficiently successful example to back up their claim that a nationalised, planned economy of the kind they propose can work. But both Cuba and pre-Yeltsin Russia had state-capitalist, not non-capitalist, economies. Neither the Russian nor the Cuban revolution "overthrew capitalism", as Militant claims. What they did was to change the personnel of the privileged class that was to preside over the accumulation of capital in these countries, from private capitalists and outside imperialists to a Party elite of state bureaucrats. That Militant see the economic system in Cuba and what used to exist in Russia as a model for what should replace capitalism confirms that they too stand for state capitalism.
But state capitalism is no more in the interest of the working class than is private capitalism. It still retains the wages system, under which people have to sell their mental and physical energies to an employer to get the money to buy the things they need to live. But where the wages system exists so does economic exploitation, since workers are always paid as wages less than the value of the work they do; the rest (Marx called it surplus value) is creamed off by their employers, whether a private individual, a company or a state enterprise, and redistributed as the privileged income of shareholders and/or state bureaucrats.
The Trotskyist proposal to nationalise all major industries and financial institutions and turn us all into state employees does not end the wages system; it merely changes who employs us (where, that is, we are not already government employees of one sort or another) and changes those who live off our work from private shareholders to state bureaucrats.
So Trotskyists like Militant are not even on the same wavelength as Socialists. It is not a question of us and them having the same aim but a different method of getting there — us, democratic political action by a democratically-organised and consciously socialist majority; them, a minority-led insurrection without majority socialist understanding. Their aim is quite different from ours. We want socialism and the abolition of the wages system; they want state capitalism with all of us being paid by the state.
In other words, even if we had some other name such as a World Socialist Party they would still have no justification for calling themselves "Socialist Party". If they had been honest (but that's science-fiction politics again) they would have changed their name to SCP or State Capitalist Party or, if that was felt to be too explicit, simply to "Trotskyist Party".
ADAM BUICK. Socialist Standard, February 1997