The SPEW and me

A brief catalogue of my encounters with the lesser spotted subspecies of the British Trot in the wild. Careful it may bite you.

In Britain for some reason the most common and longstanding strain of leftism is Trotskyism. This has always been a bit of a mystery to me because even the Trotskyists loathe Trotskyists. I'm joking, but not by much, in activist circles Trots seem to be poison, and on most Trotskyist sites I've stumbled upon the group they seem to hate the most is another Trot group. Off the top of my head theirs the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Socialist Party in England and Wales (SP/SPEW) the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) Solidarity (also in Scotland) the Socialist Equality Party (SEP), Workers Power(WP), the Workers Revolutionary Party(WRP) and the Communist Party of Great Britain (CGPB) and Counter Fire and I must be forgetting at least a dozen and have never heard of several more. Many have very bad reputations and reputations are all I know them by, with one exception.

I have a bit of personal experience with one Trot group, and curiously enough it was the one that had a fairly decent reputation in some circles. That was SPEW often known as just the Socialist Party, but I'll keep referring to them as SPEW because I don't like them being associated with Socialism, and I hope I'll adequately explain why that is below. Here's a list of the times I encountered the Socialist Party in England and Wales.

But first a brief disclaimer, apart from the last incident this is all from memory and happened several years ago, so do bear in mind that I'm going to be a bit hazy on the details.

In 2011 I was at a UCU picket at the University of Hull, in addition to the striking lecturers, some local TUC council members, me and a mate we also had a few unaffiliated Socialists and the student section (about half a dozen) of the SPEW. It was a standard negotiation picket, a petition to sign support, banners saying UCU and “honk if you support hardworking lecturers” you know, not exactly building the barricades. The Student section seemed to have Les Mis ringing in their ears however. They turned up as a group, kitted out with some home made banners and a megaphone, but instead of manning the picket and showing support they tried to get everyone to form some kind of rally. They marched around us chanting about Cairo and Wisconsin, and some third place I really don’t remember, Athens maybe?. When it didn't work they just left, as in walked off immediately leaving the rest of us very confused. Now that was not a very good first impression of the party in action, but I just wrote it off as a bunch of over enthusiastic students not really understanding the reality of these things.

A year later or thereabouts in Grimsby the SPEW as a party group tried something similar at a Fireman’s Brigade Union protest, they were forcefully told to knock it off or be banned from any other FBU event. It was rather embarrassing; now they take part in the protests but afterwards try to encourage people to attend an additional meeting they set up nearby. I've never taken them up on the offer so don't how well attended this side meetings have been but if their election results are any indication the strategy hasn't worked very well.

And when TUSC was formed the group spent months fighting with the local Labour party over control of the Union branches, the fight was purely about officer elections and affiliations, and of course financial support for the local council elections, even though TUSC only put up one candidate a year at the time. Though to be fair to them in recent years they've put up a few more. The attempt failed and back fired pretty badly, since the local Labour party is still pretty heavily concentrated in the TUC unions in the area giving them the edge in politicking. The whole thing resulted in the few SPEW union branch officers they did have(all of whom had gotten their positions before the position jockeying) were isolated and had their reputations sunk because the ordinary members resented them wasting time trying to use them for political fights.

This is embarrassing stuff and it didn't endear me to them in anyway, but SPEW are a national organisation and so maybe I've just had some bad luck? Well no, I also have example of an incident when the SPEW as a national organisation behaved in a very disruptive and opportunistic way.

For me the most egregious example of a SPEW highjacking was what happened to the National Shop Stewards Network. I wasn't directly involved in this but friends were so I learnt quite a bit about the group and its breakdown and the role of the SPEW. It was also a very public falling out so I was able to look up a few things and refresh my memory. This for me was the event that soured me on the party as a whole, I don't think I was every really in danger of joining them but it after this it meant I didn't have any time for them at all.

The NSSN was a network for shop stewards in various unions across the country, hence the name. More importantly it had succeeded in growing in some parts beyond a contact list into actual working groups and so had a physical presence. The SP had put a lot of effort into this network that had been founded by the RMT union in 2006 and for awhile had received quite a bit of credit from Trade Union types. However in 2011 it soon became clear that the SPEW were only interested in the NSSN because it was supposed to be just another front for the Party and as such all non SP members ended up resigning.

Effectively killing what had been a fairly active support network for the sake of party strategy. If you go to the NSSN website today its indistinguishable from a leftist blog site, all the news is about demo marches, "building the pressure" and solidarity (best wishes) with groups and people but no actual practical steps for any of them. The only times it does discuss strikes or workplace actions its by Unions on their own at best its a newsletter, about actions going on independently of itself. In contrast the old group was full of updates and news about workplace struggles, like for example the Yorkshire and Humberside bulletin from 2009.

I don’t bring up the NSSN because I have an attachment to it, I don't really. While it was doing some interesting things it remained firmly a creature of the Trade Union movement. Conservative, defensive and dominated by officers and staffers, even though it proclaimed that it's main goal was building the rank and file. I think on balance the old NSSN was better than what it became for whatever that's worth.
No I bring it up because in addition to my tangential connections to the NSSN it exposes the SPEW as just another opportunistic group concerned with its own influence. By the time SPEW had decided to exert controlling influence on the NSSN it had already agreed to join the anti cuts struggle. The problem and the reason for the split revolved around the question of how. The majority non SPEW officers agreed that the NSSN should be part of a wider anti cuts movement independent of any of the other organisations.

Quote:
“The NSSN Conference on 22nd January will feature an important debate about the network's role in the anti-cuts movement, which is likely to be decisive in determining the organisation's future. The meeting of the majority of current NSSN Officers held on 5th January unanimously agreed that the NSSN should seek to build unity between the existing anti-cuts bodies and to oppose any attempt to further fragment the developing but still fragile anti-cuts movement. We urge all NSSN supporters and like minded trade unionists to attend our conference to help ensure that the NSSN plays a positive role in unifying the emerging anti-cuts movement and in building support for the sort of industrial action that will be crucial to beating back the coalition's attacks.”

Source
Emphasis mine.

However SPEW wanted the NSSN to join its own anti cuts organisation that was being setup at the time.

Quote:
“The purpose of this Conference is to put before shop stewards and workplace reps a proposal to set up a working class trade union based campaign that is able to intervene on a clear no-cuts programme in the forthcoming battles.”

Source
Emphasis mine.

Both sides of the dispute, NSSN officers on one side(SPEW blamed one Dave Chapple a CWU shop steward in particular) and the SPEW Executive Committee (which to me is telling*) claimed the opposition was unrepresentative, and dishonest. And while I’m no stranger to a fight between two dishonest groups equally as terrible, after this dispute came to ahead it was followed by mass resignations which does suggest that the NSSN officers were the more popular and closer to the truth of the matter.

On the 22nd of January meeting the SPEW members dominated (its an old tactic from the days of Militant, called stacking a meeting) and forced through their proposal. This meant that from 23rd of January the NSSN had to work to setup a project of the SPEW, on behalf of the SPEW. Understandably the non SPEW members didn’t feel like working for a political party they weren’t members of and so walked away. And that was all she wrote for the NSSN. This dispute tanked SPEW’s reputation, amongst the trade union constituency, the jewel in the crown for most Trotskyist groups. At least one General Secretary had written an open letter to dissuade them from this plan and the shop stewards informed the rest of the union apparatus. And of course all the other leftist groups wasted no time spreading the information. It’s also clear that the dispute was purely about control, the NSSN had already agreed to resist the public spending cuts in some form so this couldn’t have been motivated by principal, unless we count naked self interest. If the SPEW were genuine in building a powerful anti cuts movement and had no interest in controlling the NSSN they had several options, 1) join an already existing anti-cuts group, or 2)set up their own group but keep it independent of the NSSN. Either option would have allowed them to work with the NSSN on its own terms.

I do feel sorry for the members who put years of effort into the organisation only to have another group wreck it for them. And for any workers who relied upon the NSSN in their workplace struggles because this politicking couldn't have helped.

A textbook case of highjacking, in hindsight this wasn’t really surprising given that SPEW is the child of Militant. But there you are. I don't really have an overall point here, I just thought it'd be worth sharing my experiences with this group for reference purposes. Though I suppose it might be useful knowledge for anyone interested in joining such an organization. I mean when I first encountered the "Socialist Party" tm I didn't know about their Trotskyist leanings or their dodgy heritage. They talked a good British leftist game about nationalisation and the need for workers militancy etc, which was in tune with my politics at the time.

Fortunately I held off joining until I knew more about them and my education took me in a different direction.

*To elaborate the dispute was publicly between a group of NSSN officers and the SPEW executive committee as a whole and not just the party members who had joined the NSSN. Which confirmed the allegation that the SPEW members were carrying out party orders.

Comments

ajjohnstone
May 15 2016 23:59

I always appreciate personal accounts of political activity and observations from it. The above is one such example where others can learn from someone's actual experiences. The Who sang we won't be fooled again, but sadly we often are.

Quote:
That was SPEW often know as just the Socialist Party, but I'll keep referring to them as SPEW because I don't like them being associated with Socialism,

Most on this forum will be well aware of the original Socialist Party i.e. the Socialist Party of Great Britain, the very non-Trot SPGB, (your cuddly Marxist advocates for electoral action, or as i like to refer to ourselves, the parliamentary wing of anarchism,) and how when Militant evolved from an entryist group to a political party it endeavoured to usurp the name "Socialist Party" but even the electoral commission wasn't having of any that, obliging SPEW to register on ballots as Socialist Alternative and/or a variety of reform campaign names.

It is one more reason for folk not to fall into the habit of calling SPEW, the Socialist Party.

Reddebrek
May 16 2016 01:52

Thank you.

Yeah most active users will probably know who they are but site readers may not. This may have changed since TUSC has been in existence for a few years but when I first met them they were really pushing the "we're THE Socialist Party" line. They always refered to themselves as the Socialist Party, and that was the name on all their banners, newspaper etc. I honestly didn't know their oficial name was Socialist Party of England and Wales until years later, despite having personal contact with them. I suspect they do that to try and catch all the potential leftists while their still unsure and would be put off by a specific ideology. Not a bad strategy if all you care about is growth.

That should really be a major warning sign that the group isn't above board with even its own members.

mollymew
May 16 2016 21:17

The species *Trotskyus icepickus* is a strange animal. Its genome has been a puzzle for many years. On the one hand it seems to be hyper-mutable insofar as it continually changes its external appearance (names) and has diversified into numerous subspecies. On the other hand it maintains a hyper-stable behavioral repertoire that is admirably adapted to the tiny ecological niche that it occupies - as you have observed with the variation that you studied in your field work. Always the same under different names. It is believed that the species usually propagates by binary fission, though instances of hypergamy in which more than one new subspecies are produced have been noted in the literature. The general consensus is that the variations can be classified into two taxonomic groups. Var. entryatum has adapted to a parasitic existence in the lower intestines of animals of the Socdemarium genus though it also occasionally infests animals of the Class Unionia and Coalitionata. In the case of the latter cross-species infestations it is often fatal to the animal infested though animals of the Class Unionia almost invariably form a resistant immune reaction.The other variation, Var. Leninus resurrectum, lives in a free floating bubble of its own creation.

Both variations are capable of symbiosis but only with variants geographically distant from them. Such associations have been observed to construct large but basically empty structures termed 'Internationalistics'. In relation of nearby subspecies the variants almost always exhibit extreme agonistic behavior. The animal is so sensitive that it can detect genetic variation that so far is invisible to any genomic analysis known.

Yes, watching Trot groups can be an interesting hobby. I wonder if the old website 'Trotwatch' is still in operation ? The rapid mutations can make your head spin. In connection with this I notice that you mentioned the Communist Party of Great Britain as a 'Trot' group. The [CPGB](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communist_Party_of_Great_Britain) was the old British branch franchise of the McMoscow Corporation, and it declared bankruptcy in 1991 following the dissolution of the parent company. Since then there have been several attempts at reconstitution amongst which the [Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee)](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communist_Party_of_Great_Britain_(Provisional_Central_Committee) was the most prominent. There are also some Maoist and semi-Maoist 'parties' such as the CPofGB Marxist-Leninist and the Communist Party of Britain, but the less said about Satanic cults the better.

I went searching for a Trotskyist group by the name of the CPofGB, but for the life of me I couldn't find any such thing. My question is whether there actually **is** a new Trot grouping by that name ? Such parties come and go and change their names so fast it's hard to keep track. Any info on that ? The science of zoological taxonomy will thank you for your efforts.

Reddebrek
May 16 2016 21:46

The CPGB you link to is the very one I'm talking about. Your correct that it was the official party affiliate of the Soviet Union and it did collapse in 1991.But it didn't really die, its collapse was due to faction fighting, but one of the factions kept the name, branding and newspaper (Weekly Worker). Curiously this faction, had become increasingly influenced by Trotskyism during the 80's.

Their website is here, they're a bit different from the usual British Trots in that they talk a lot about Karl Kautsky and the need to build a mass workers party like the old German SPD.

ajjohnstone
May 17 2016 00:03

I'll give Weekly Worker its due - it always prints my letters.

It is also a useful for "lefty-news" on other parties and conferences. Worth having on your weekly media reading list.

Flava O Flav
May 17 2016 14:59

Here's something I wrote about their Irish section. Disclaimer, I was a member of said section from 1996 to 2009 when a two year period of introspection lead me to break with the org and with Trotskyism.

https://selfcertified.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/pathological-bolshevism-the-socialist-party-and-the-demise-of-cahwt/

redsdisease
May 18 2016 23:30

A question for British posters who keep up with these sort of things: Would you say that the SPEW is now the largest/most active trot group in the UK since the crisis over sexual assault within the SWP?

If so, I feel like the US has seen a similar trend, with Socialist Alternative, the US CWI affiliate, becoming probably the most visibly active, if not the largest trot group in the US far-left while the the Cliffite ISO has been in decline for the past five or so years. At least, that's how it's seemed to me.

Reddebrek
May 19 2016 04:33

@Flava, Thank you for sharing that, it was interesting reading. Though interesting and surprising are two different things of course. Though I am curious as to what was the bridge too far for you in regards to membership. And also as to the treatment of members not in the inner circle.

@Redsdis
That's a good question, I'm not really sure but if we stretch the definition of the party to include TUSC which does have a few other smaller left groups and the odd unaffiliated within it, and the Scottish Socialist Party which is its "fraternal party" up north then it may well be. I can't say for certain since they're the only group active in my area. Not even the SWP pre crisis had a presence here.

Although it is still just a big fish in a small pond.

ajjohnstone
May 19 2016 09:33
Quote:
Scottish Socialist Party which is its "fraternal party" up north

Not quite.

http://socialistpartyscotland.org.uk/

As with the Trots there are always splits.

The Socialist Party Scotland is the Scottish affiliate of SPEW and it was created when the Tommy 'the liar' Sheridan departed from the SSP and the SPS became associated with Solidarity, Tommy's vanity party but when Sheridan called for a nationalist SNP vote, the SPS distanced itself and split once more.

Flava O Flav
May 19 2016 11:01
Reddebrek wrote:
@Flava, Thank you for sharing that, it was interesting reading. Though interesting and surprising are two different things of course. Though I am curious as to what was the bridge too far for you in regards to membership. And also as to the treatment of members not in the inner circle.

What was the bridge too far? Hmmm, it was more a punctuated slow march of little things.
Being told not to argue with anarchists and trots of other persuasions on the internet (not personally but collective directives that a few of us routinely ignored anyway), constant focus on elections and building candidate profiles, Being told a suggestion you made wouldn't work only for the executive to suggest and carry it out without referring to their previous decision, getting something tabled at your branch only for one of the executive full timers to turn up just to 'patiently explain' why you were wrong - and around 2007 as a result of these things beginning to look elsewhere - reading about council communism, autonomism, and anarchism. The slate system for executive committee elections was probably the first thing I had a problem with.

Treatment of members was more or less as foot soldiers carrying out tasks that were decided by the branch ctte at the suggestion of the executive committee. Oh and when you leave, if you stay politically active you're a pariah.

jondwhite
May 19 2016 12:22
Reddebrek wrote:
Thank you.

Yeah most active users will probably know who they are but site readers may not. This may have changed since TUSC has been in existence for a few years but when I first met them they were really pushing the "we're THE Socialist Party" line. They always refered to themselves as the Socialist Party, and that was the name on all their banners, newspaper etc. I honestly didn't know their oficial name was Socialist Party of England and Wales until years later, despite having personal contact with them. I suspect they do that to try and catch all the potential leftists while their still unsure and would be put off by a specific ideology. Not a bad strategy if all you care about is growth.

That should really be a major warning sign that the group isn't above board with even its own members.

I see this is the first use of the tag 'SPEW' on libcom, another blog entry uses socialist-party, a tag that really should be reserved for the SPGB.
http://libcom.org/tags/socialist-party

Anarcho
May 21 2016 10:43

The same thing happened during the anti-poll tax campaign -- a mass movement, with groups across the country, was built and then used to bolster the party. In Scotland, they used it to create what became the SSP -- turning the focus from community self-organisation and direct action into getting people elected into various positions.

The subsequent fate of the SSP, namely imploding due to Sheridan's ego (built by the hero-worship the party encouraged), should not distract us from its goal of becoming the Labour Party and making all the mistakes it made. I always thought that Militant had built the SSP so it could deep-entry its own social-democratic party smile

Anyway, did nobody in the party notice that Socialist Party of England and Wales was SPEW? That seemed particularly clueless...

IrrationallyAngry
Jun 3 2016 17:50

I'm sorry I missed this, one of the great stupid libcom threads, when it was still active.

redsdisease
Jun 4 2016 00:56
IrrationallyAngry wrote:
I'm sorry I missed this, one of the great stupid libcom threads, when it was still active.

Three weeks ago?

Steven.
Jun 5 2016 11:02
IrrationallyAngry wrote:
I'm sorry I missed this, one of the great stupid libcom threads, when it was still active.

er the date is above each post…

Entdinglichung
Nov 11 2016 17:04

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/nov/11/peter-taaffe-socialist-militants-labour

Quote:
Peter Taaffe, the driving force behind the hard-left organisation Militant Tendency, has submitted an application to rejoin the Labour party, as part of a group of 75 activists, in the hope of strengthening Jeremy Corbyn’s hand against backbench rebels.

Taaffe, who now leads the Socialist party, the successor to Militant, said he and his allies had more than 1,000 years of Labour membership between them, before they were thrown out during a party crackdown.

“Jeremy represents a new era: democratic, open and so on,” Taaffe told the Guardian. “Our position is that a new era needs a new form of organisation, which embraces different strands on the left.”

DigitalSocialist
Jan 15 2017 17:07

I would be curious to read your letters to Weekly Worker.
As a Joke, I have referred to the Weekly Worker as the

Quote:
"Hello Magazine of the Left"