Socialist Party of Great Britain worth £1,3 million. And?
Long ago, in my North London youth, I learnt a lot of basic Marxism from the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s monthly, The Socialist Standard.
As John Sullivan wrote (see below) the SPGB’s use of the “vernacular” – that is plain English – made these ideas accessible to an ‘orrible well under 15 year old North Londoner in a way that no other leftist publication did.
Like many on the left I have come across SPGB members over the years.
Frankly I am not surprised at this story – which in today’s terms reveals a ‘fortune’ that the average Tory MP would use up putting a deposit down on a one-room holiday flat and beach-hut in Southwold.
But it shows the SPGB – immortally dubbed the Small Party of Good Boys – is still there.
Perhaps they will soon have a well-mannered debate with Michael Ezra on how best to spoil your ballot paper (we hear that drawing a picture of “my naughty little mansion” on the slip was his 2015 response).
Socialist Party of Great Britain worth £1.3m, accounts show reports the BBC.
A tiny socialist party which believes in the abolition of money is sitting on a £1.3m cash and property pile, it has emerged.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain, which has 300 members, has cash reserves of £452,250 and property worth £900,000, its latest accounts say.
The party, which was founded in 1904 – making it one of the oldest in the UK – is based in Clapham High Street.
It bought the South London shop premises in 1951 for about £3,000.
But it has benefited from the boom in the capital’s property prices, with the value of its assets increasing by £400,000 in a single year, according to its accounts.
‘Not a charity’
Media spokesman Adam Buick, who joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1962, said he saw no contradiction between its socialist beliefs and its capitalist windfall.
“We live in a capitalist society and you need money to survive in a capitalist society,” he told BBC News.
“We are not a charity, we are not giving it away to the poor, we are using it to propagate the case for socialism.”
The party, which does not have leaders, aims to use the ballot box to build a mass socialist movement and is well-known in left-wing circles for rejecting the Soviet Union as a failed example of “state capitalism”.
It fielded 10 candidates at this year’s general election, all of whom lost their deposits, gaining a total of 899 votes. It also contested 2014’s European elections in the Wales and South East regions, gaining a total of 6,838 votes.
Explaining the party’s stance on money, Mr Buick said: “We don’t want just to ‘abolish money’.
“What we want is to see established a society of common ownership and democratic control in which money, banks, finance etc will be redundant and so disappear, being replaced by ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs’. What socialism in its proper sense has always involved.”
Mr Buick said the party was regularly approached by estate agents and property developers urging them to sell their headquarters, which is flanked by fashionable restaurants and shops.
He said some members were in favour of selling up and moving to a cheaper, less high-profile location and others had argued in favour of putting the party’s money in an investment account, although they drew the line at investing in the stock exchange.
“That would be going too far, although there would be some members who wouldn’t necessarily be against that,” said Mr Buick.
He said the party had only recently begun to have its accounts fully audited, including an estimate of its property wealth, to comply with Electoral Commission rules.
The party had also benefitted in recent years from generous bequests from members who had died, he added.
An even smaller left wing party, the Socialist Alliance, was recently left £101,254 in a will, which it spent on deposits and campaign funds for Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidates at May’s general election.
Background: from John Sullivan As Soon As This Pub Closes.
THE oldest socialist party, the SPGB was founded in 1904, when the left wing of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) rejected the opportunist politics of Hyndman, Marx’s bête noir, the leader of their parent group, which culminated in congratulating King Edward on his accession to the throne. The original left faction was a confused amalgam which included some people in London and a number of Scots comrades influenced by the American Marxist–Syndicalist Daniel de Leon. Unfortunately De Leon’s ideas came to them through the agency of the Edinburgh adventurer James Connolly, who ended his career as an Irish nationalist and Catholic martyr. Instead of fighting to win the SDF to a Marxist policy, the Scots broke away in 1903 to form the Socialist Labour Party (SLP), leaving the London SDF members compromised and isolated. The following year they themselves split from the SDF and formed the SPGB.
The double-dealing of the faction which formed the SLP made the SPGB an angry and suspicious group from the beginning. That was demonstrated by the Declaration of Principles (D of P), carried in the first issue of its journal, the Socialist Standard. The key part of the document is Clause 7, the famous ‘hostility clause’ which states: ‘That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party which seeks working-class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.’
The ‘hostility clause’ was a stroke of genius which expresses the essence of the SPGB, and achieved a simple formula for achieving isolation and non-cooperation which the party’s rivals try to obtain through confused and inconsistent dialectical contortions. Religious sects achieve the same effect by shaving their heads or wearing distinctive clothes. The hostility to other groups was reciprocated from the beginning as the SPGB’s insistence on writing in plain English caused great offence: most left groups consider that a church must have its own language and liturgy, and have laboriously constructed a jargon comprehensible only to the initiated. The SPGB’s insistence on using the vernacular has provoked much the same response as that of the Papacy towards those who translated the Bible into the common tongue. The D of P has never been seriously challenged, and the party has never looked back. It has been fortunate in finding a biographer in Robert Baltrop, whose book The Monument is a truthful and warmly affectionate account of a group whose aggression and cantankerousness have placed a strain on the tolerance of most people who encounter them. People have the impression that a group bound to a doctrine first enunciated in 1904 must be composed of dogmatic robots. Nothing could be further from the truth! The SPGB was, until recently, full of the most delightful and varied eccentrics one could hope to meet. The reason for this is that although the D of P is sacrosanct, it covers only the question of how the socialist society will be brought about. The party, in contrast to many other sects, does not try to regulate its members’ domestic lives, eating habits or personal relationships.
The party’s formula for achieving socialism is beautifully simple: the workers are to become individually convinced of the socialist case, and when that has been done they will vote in a government which will decree socialism at a stroke. No attention is given to boring questions of tactics or strategy. The SPGB thus achieves the unique distinction of being both constitutional and revolutionary. Through this formula the SPGB avoids the strains which drive other socialists to drink or revisionism. The very simplicity of the formula might seem to rule out the possibility of discussion. However, the D of P, inflexible as it is in the area which it covers, does not specify what the society of the future will be like; consequently, SPGB meetings, whatever the ostensible topic, quickly tend to gravitate towards discussion on precisely this theme. Under socialism will we be vegetarian, monogamous or not? Will we still live in cities? Will we use more or less water, and will goods still be mass produced? Visitors to SPGB meetings, expecting to hear solemn Marxists discussing how to overthrow the bourgeoisie, are usually surprised and charmed. No speculation is forbidden by the D of P, so imaginations can soar, unfettered by the tedious discussions on tactics and strategy which form the content of most socialist theory. Even the least imaginative of the speculations are more appealing than descriptions of the Christians’ dreary, male chauvinist heaven.
It is accepted sociological wisdom that any organisation which has existed for three generations should have achieved a measure of family continuity, and so be relieved of the constant necessity to win converts from the outside world. As the SPGB is the only political sect which has been around long enough to test the theory on, it has attracted more attention from sociologists than from students of politics. In fact, the SPGB’s achievement there has not yet equalled that of any established religious sect. What does happen, according to Barltrop, is that new members join because of social relationships rather than formal propaganda, which serves as a diversion for the members rather than as a source of recruitment. The party is, apart from the Discussion Group, the only socialist organisation which is at all difficult to join. Members have to satisfy a committee that they understand the SPGB’s case; in contrast, the vanguard groups will accept anyone who does as she is told.
In the 1950s, the SPGB seemed like a survivor of the Edwardian era, rather like the Secular Society, with whose cultural milieu it overlaps. However, just as that scene was rejuvenated by a revival of interest in the universities, so to a lesser extent was the SPGB. This has changed the internal atmosphere in ways which are sometimes worrying. Discipline, once draconian, has become very lax: some of the younger members’ interpretation of the ‘hostility clause’ is frankly alarming. They argue that the while the D of P enjoins hostility to rival organisations, this need not be extended to the members of such organisations. On a strictly legalistic reading of the D of P, this is perhaps allowable, but it would severely weaken the social effect of the hostility clause. It would never have been accepted by the stalwarts who built the party, and it goes against its whole tradition. Some of the new wave wish to substitute a plan to transform society gradually through the growth of cooperatives for the party’s traditional programme of an immediate transition to socialism once it has a firm parliamentary majority. It would be sad indeed if a party which fought so long against the Social Democratic theory of gradualism were to succumb to the life-stylism which has destroyed so many of its rivals.
I have omitted the concluding paragraph because it was written before this split in the SPGB.
Socialist StudiesMain article: Socialist Studies (1989)
In 1991, the Camden and northwest London branches of the Party were expelled after a party-wide referendum found them to be engaged in persistent undemocratic behaviour. Some of these ex-members, comprising sixteen individuals, refused to recognise the expulsions and attempted to continue operating as the Socialist Party of Great Britain, which they claimed to have “reconstituted”. The group’s activity consists primarily of holding occasional propaganda meetings and publishing their journal Socialist Studies, which serves just as much as a forum for socialist philosophy and agitation as it does for polemics against the original SPGB. The Socialist Studies group claims that original SPGB has deviated from the strict anti-reformism principles it established in 1904, to the point of engaging in Trotskyist, Stalinist, and even fascistpolitics.
I am not sure about the last claim.
Socialist Studies comes, sometimes, to the Burston Rally, and he is a polite enough chap who does not look capable of making such wild claims.
Subscribe to comments with RSS.