The 13 former members of the Merseyside committee of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, suspended by the Taaffe leadership, explain why they could not agree to the seven-point ultimatum of the executive committee
Over the last few years comrades from the Merseyside region have raised political and organisational differences with the executive committee on a number of issues, such as perspectives for capitalism worldwide, trade union issues, and how to build a new workers’/socialist party. These political differences resulted in a questioning of the orientation of the Socialist Party to campaigns and in a number of financial and organisational matters.
We did not think at the time that these differences were fundamental enough to mean that we should be removed from the party. Such a debate should have been welcomed. It could have resulted in a clarification of perspectives and programme for the party as a whole. It could have built on the ideas of comrades that have been actively involved in one of the most important struggles of the working class in the post-war period.
Instead we saw a leadership of the Socialist Party that saw these different ideas as a threat, that had to be ‘removed’. During this whole period of differences over several years the EC did not attempt to discuss with comrades on Merseyside. In fact the EC were hardly seen in Liverpool until the last few months. Only when we discussed the possibility of producing a journal did the EC start coming to Merseyside. However, rather than welcoming an initiative to find new methods of discussing socialist ideas, once again it was seen as a threat. Many branches have already set up their own web pages on the internet - what is the difference?
The political positions of comrades on Merseyside have been totally misrepresented by the EC. We have been totally honest in raising doubts on perspectives and orientation based on the concrete conditions of our work on Merseyside. The EC in contrast have given no direction in the current period. The Socialist Party has no constitution, a programme that is hardly changed from the period of entryism in the Labour Party, a continual emphasis on the ensuing collapse of the economy worldwide, and the only direction for political work is to build amongst students with no explanation for the reasons for a turn to students. During the last few years the only thing that has held the party together has been loyalty and the continual demand to raise more and more money on the streets.
It was only after the end of the dockers’ struggle the EC must have felt confident to attempt to remove the Merseyside organisation. Merseyside was then deluged with letters, putting organisational demands on the regional committee that in many cases were impossible to respond to. The Merseyside comrades correctly viewed these letters for what they turned out to be - preparing the grounds for suspension/expulsion. The majority of comrades on the Merseyside committee had received similar series of letters during the period of expulsions and suspensions from the Labour Party.
The seven points of the last letter in this context become irrelevant. They were written by the EC in the knowledge that some of the points could not be implemented by members of the Merseyside Committee. Many comrades have asked us why we could not have just agreed the seven points. We gave honest answers to the questions. We did not believe we should pretend to implement decisions that we could not carry through. Even where we had implemented the requests in the seven points, the EC have continued to say we have not agreed with any of the points. Where we said that the journal to be produced in Merseyside would be “based on the present programme of our party” we were told by a member of the EC that they did not believe us! We are of the belief that even if in words we had said we would agree, the EC would still have proposed our suspension on the basis that they did not believe us.
The seven points
(1) We were asked to put all our political and organisational differences in writing. A document was put forward by the Merseyside committee within the week deadline which put in writing some, but not all, of the major political and organisational differences with the EC. We agreed to produce a more detailed explanation of our political and organisational differences, for circulation and discussion by the whole party, in time for the national conference next year. In contrast the EC have not carried out the decision of the last conference to produce a document on EMU - are they acting outside democratic unity?
(2) We were asked to abide by democratic unity in carrying out the national decisions on student work and the week’s income. We had honestly raised, as have many other areas of the country, the lack of response to the SFE [Save Free Education] campaign. We have instead been campaigning around low pay, orientating to young workers. Is this really a reason for suspension? We had agreed to circulate the week’s income material to members. However, we did not feel confident in actively campaigning on the week’s income when the Socialist Party was about to sell the national centre and would be sitting on £600,000 raising interest in the bank. How many other comrades, branches and regions are carrying out the above tasks? Wasn’t Merseyside being singled out?
(3) We were asked to inform the EC of aggregates. The EC had been informed of all aggregate meetings.
(4) We were asked to provide information on all debts. Full information was provided on the debts within the week’s deadline, and full accounts for 1996 and 1997 were produced. Although all this information was provided, we were told by EC members that it was not the full information. We have no knowledge of any other information that could be provided. Despite giving information, and asking EC members for discussions on a way forward on the debts, there was a refusal to discuss. All the information was used as further ‘evidence’ against us rather than entering a dialogue and coming up with a solution.
(5) We were asked to pay to the national centre 90% of all subscriptions from individual members from September 26. We were physically unable to send off this money because the bank has been taking over £500 per month from the account to pay off a loan. Merseyside had been behind in paying the required percentage to the national centre, but committed to pay the debts in subs. The last payment for subs was an amount in September for May’s subs. For the last few months there had been particular cash flow problems because we had not been receiving sufficient rent to cover the loan. A fuller explanation is given below.
(6) We were asked to give information about members of the Merseyside committee involved in projects and Club Resistance. We did not believe it was appropriate to give information on individual comrades’ employment. Why are Merseyside comrades being singled out when leading trade union comrades have not been asked to account for their expenses? The EC and members should be able to question all finances and decisions taken by members on behalf of the party, but this does not apply where the party has no direct say in how that organisation is run. Information was given about Club Resistance including a draft strategy for youth and student work.
(7) We were asked to review the position of the full-timer. We raised the issue that there needs to be discussion nationally on the role of paid party work, and for a national strategy. Is it right that many regions now have no full-timers?
The true financial position on Merseyside
We have been accused of financial mismanagement by the EC. We completely refute this allegation and object to an individual comrade being singled out for this charge. Various decisions were made on Merseyside on a collective basis. Many of these decisions were made with the full agreement of members of the EC - for example the setting up of the printshop.
We believe that we acted in good faith, with the knowledge that we had at the time. The necessity of the intensity of the class struggle in the period of the 80s meant that we built up a huge structure on Merseyside - over 30 FTs, a three-storey building, and a printshop. Nobody could have predicted the extent and the length of time of the retraction of the class struggle. At the end of the 1980s we predicted the red 90s! Up to the mid-90s we still had five FTs, the centre, comrades on the council, an advice centre, and printshop - and still expecting things to change in the near future. We took a decision to turn our centre into flats in order to provide an additional income. The EC’s claim to have offered £15,000 towards debts at the time would not have gone anywhere near any debts left from selling the centre and the printshop. The EC offered no other solution. We believe we took the only possible and responsible decision at the time. The EC have never taken time to come to Merseyside and discuss the finances or look at the books. During this period the percentage of subs to be paid to the national centre increased from 60% to 90% - putting an additional burden on the Merseyside organisation.
Any comrades wishing to see the financial situation for themselves are welcome to come to Merseyside and look at the books.
Comrades that have built up a significant base amongst the working class on Merseyside - a base that was not just built upon the struggles of the 80s, but has continued to the present day - have now been denied any access to discussion and debate within the Socialist Party, including access to the Socialist Party website.
The experience over the last few years, culminating in our suspension over the last few months, has led us to the conclusion that there is no future within the Socialist Party for honest revolutionaries and socialists. In fact the Socialist Party and the CWI appear to be in terminal decline, resorting to lies and distortions to maintain their position. We recognise that many comrades will not have come to the same conclusion as yet and we welcome debate and discussion with all members of the Socialist Party.
There is an urgent need for socialists and revolutionaries to debate and discuss ideas. The methods of the past may or may not be the methods of the future. If you want to be involved in these discussions please contact us.