Socialist Equality Party (UK)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Britain)

A determined orientation to the working class

118. What characterised Healy’s work was his determination to seize every opportunity to encourage the independent political activity of the working class. Even his enemies are forced to acknowledge the inexhaustible drive, organisational flair and initiative with which this fight was conducted. But it was indissolubly connected with his firm conviction that he was building a party that would lead the working class in the revolutionary seizure of power. For Healy’s opponents, this occasioned only hatred; for workers, it was a powerful source of attraction.

119. The early 1960s was a time of global economic growth. Even though the underlying tendency was a continuing deterioration in Britain’s world position, especially in the wake of the 1956 Suez Crisis, the majority of workers were experiencing, for the first time in decades, rising living standards. This development stimulated increased self-confidence and militancy, and a desire to extend the advances embodied in the post-war reforms. Britain was in ferment as “winds of change” swept the country. Culturally, there was a sense of growing alienation from a sclerotic, hide-bound establishment and the social deference, cant and hypocrisy with which it had been associated.

120. The political radicalisation of broad layers found expression in the SLL winning the leadership of the Young Socialists (YS) in the Labour Party. Harold Wilson became Labour leader in 1963, after the sudden death of Hugh Gaitskell. He sought to adapt himself to rising social aspirations by advancing Labour as the party of a new “meritocracy”, which would offer the possibility of advancement in a more liberal and forward-looking Britain. But Wilson entered on a collision course with the working class when his government sought to rationalise and merge industry, while defending the pound from devaluation, caused by the country’s spiralling debt. Pledging himself to oppose “restrictive practices” and “outdated measures” in industry, Wilson set out to cut labour costs through enforced wage controls.

121. The SLL and the YS led the opposition to Wilson’s right-wing agenda. With the general election imminent, the Labour leadership again responded by suspending Keep Left supporters and proscribing the paper. When, at the 1964 conference, Keep Left supporters won a majority and passed resolutions demanding that an incoming Labour government carry out socialist policies, Wilson closed down YS branches and expelled Keep Left supporters. Riot police were called against a Keep Left lobby of the Labour Party National Executive Committee, and YS members were physically thrown out of Transport House. Following a 4,000-strong demonstration on September 27, 1964, the SLL launched the independent Young Socialists.

122. The Grant and Cliff groups did nothing more than issue for-the-record protests against the witch-hunt—always shrouding such statements with criticisms of the SLL’s “provocative” behaviour in refusing to kowtow to the bureaucracy. They published a common paper, Young Guard, which was allowed to circulate freely as a counterweight to the SLL in the Young Socialists. The Labour Party’s official youth section was re-organised as the Labour Party Young Socialists, and the Grant group assumed its leadership as the loyal advocate of left reformism.

123. In October 1964, Labour was elected for the first time in 13 years. Wilson’s prices and incomes policy provoked a wave of industrial action, which was overwhelmingly unofficial due to the unions’ pact with the government. Through its intransigent struggle against the bureaucracy, and the Stalinists in particular, the SLL won an important base in sections of the working class, such as at British Leyland in Cowley, Oxford. In September 1968, the All Trades Union Alliance was established as the party’s industrial wing.

The SLL opposes unprincipled reunification with the Pabloites

124. It is to Healy’s credit that at the very point when the movement was involved in this difficult fight in Britain, it took the courageous decision to oppose moves, initiated by the SWP in early 1957, towards an unprincipled reunification with the Pabloites. Cannon had reversed his earlier position and begun discussions with Colvin De Silva of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) in Ceylon, which had opposed the Open Letter and had been moving openly towards an adaptation to Ceylon’s bourgeois nationalist movement. He justified this rapprochement by declaring that differences with the Pabloites were lessening, and that unification talks could take place based on “concrete” agreement on immediate goals and tasks.

125. Cannon’s organisational approach was opposed by the British Trotskyists. While accepting discussions on unity, Healy argued that:

“the basic methodological differences between ourselves and Pablo remain and have not been eradicated despite the favourable objective situation. We should be completely clear on this score, and under no circumstances seek to minimise them. That could lead to serious miseducation.”[1]

126. In a letter to Cannon of May 10, 1957 Healy wrote:

“Recently we have been reviewing the internal documents of our world movement since the end of the war, and it is quite clear that an objective study of that period is extremely important for the education of our cadres in the future…. [T]he strengthening of our cadres is decisive in this present period and this can only be done in a thorough-going education around the problems of revisionism.”[2]

127. Bill Hunter’s (W. Sinclair) Under a Stolen Flag, published on May 22, 1957, showed how the crisis within Stalinism had served to deepen the liquidationist revisions of Pabloism. In the name of the “political revolution”, the International Secretariat postulated a process of “irresistible evolution”, “liberalisation” and the emergence of “proletarian” and “reform” tendencies from within the Stalinist apparatus under the “pressure of the masses”. Even in the aftermath of the Hungarian revolution, the Pabloites had not made a single call for the construction of Trotskyist parties in the USSR, China or Eastern Europe.

128. In June 1957, the 13th Congress of the British section adopted the resolution, “The Situation in the World Trotskyist Movement”. Proposing a parity committee, made up of representatives of the International Committee and the International Secretariat, tasked with drawing up a “memorandum of agreement on the issues where there is basic agreement” it stressed that any international unification of tendencies claiming to be Trotskyist:

“must be based upon fundamental agreement on the principles and programme of the Fourth International as elaborated by the late Leon Trotsky and the 1938 Founding Congress of the Fourth International. This means rejection of all forms of revisionism of the state capitalist, Shachtmanite and Pabloite-Deutscher varieties.”[3]

129. In June 1958, a conference of the International Committee was held in Leeds, attended by Farrell Dobbs on behalf of the SWP. The conference resolution summed up the principles on which the struggle against Pabloism had been based. Rejecting “all conceptions that mass pressure can resolve the question of leadership by forcing reform of the bureaucratic apparatus”, in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, it maintained that any

“regroupment of forces which are moving in a revolutionary direction [must be] coupled with an ideological offensive against Stalinism, social democracy, centrism, trade union bureaucracy and the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois leaderships of national movements in colonial and semi-colonial movements.”[4]

130. Upon receiving this resolution, the SWP instructed Dobbs to return to the United States. The moves towards reunification expressed a political shift of the SWP away from its proletarian axis. This found its most finished expression in the SWP’s adaptation to Fidel Castro’s 26th of July movement in Cuba. Having initially defined Castro’s regime as bourgeois nationalist in 1959, over the next year, under the leadership of Joseph Hansen, the SWP redefined Cuba as a workers’ state. Hansen argued that the nationalisations conducted by Castro proved that social revolution could be accomplished with the “blunted instrument” of guerrilla warfare, under the leadership of “unconscious Marxists”. On this basis, the SWP oriented its cadre to work in the “Fair Play for Cuba Committee”—an organisation later revealed to be run by the CIA.

131. To assert that the class character of the Cuban state could be determined on the basis of the nationalisations carried out by Castro was a fundamental revision of the Marxist theory of socialist revolution. It rendered irrelevant the struggle of Marxists to organise the proletariat independently of all other classes, including the peasantry. Not only did the Castroite movement have no significant connection to the working class, there did not exist any identifiable organs through which the proletariat could exercise its class rule. The universal significance of soviet power and the identification of Marxist parties with the proletariat were called into question.


Cited in The Heritage We DefendA Contribution to the History of the Fourth International, David North (1988), Labor Publications, p. 331.


ibid, p. 332-333.


ibid. p. 335.


ibid. p. 334.