The Left

Socialist Action: hidden in plain sight

This is a cross-post from Howie’s Corner

One of the most secretive organisations on the far left of British politics is the tiny, yet ever present Socialist Action group lead by John Ross, a former member of the International Marxist Group (IMG). Earlier this year the Progress website reported on the appointment of a former SA member to Ed Miliband’s office:

Simon Fletcher, lately of Trotskyite groupuscule Socialist Action and chief of staff to Ken Livingstone, can today be found managing Miliband’s relations with the trade unions, an appointment which has caused a few eyebrows to be raised in Westminster.

The hire partly reflects Labour’s need to manage a more political, assertive and united union leadership. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey recently declared that a return to ‘Blairism’ would mean ‘Labour will be over for me.’ You probably do not respond to this by appointing a rightwinger.

Fletcher is also regarded, even by critics, as much the brightest and best of the old Socialist Action crowd, being more politically flexible than older ideologues, and much more discreet than some famous names.

This event did not go unnoticed in the mainstream press as the London Evening Standard commented on his appointment:

Mr Fletcher was the most senior member of Mr Livingstone’s inner circle of advisers and a hugely powerful figure at City Hall from 2000 to 2008. He built closer relations with Mr Miliband’s team, including campaigns manager Tom Watson, while working on the former Mayor’s attempted come-back in last year’s election against Boris Johnson.

He began his career working for Tony Benn and was involved with Socialist Action, a faction that sprang from a split in the International Marxist Group, whose members boasted of trying to turn London into a “socialist city state”.

After he met Mr Livingstone in 1992, the two became close partners and Mr Fletcher masterminded his boss’s first mayoral victory in 2000.

So just who are these people?

Back in the 1980s the long established IMG decided to try and emulate the comparative success of the then Militant Tendency by practising what trotskyists call “entryism” into the Labour Party. The group, then several hundred strong changed the name of its newspaper from Socialist Challenge to Socialist Action. However this “turn” also came at a time of increasing factional intrigue, not just in the IMG itself but across the United Secretariat of the Fourth International of which the group was the British franchise holder.

The American “section” (officially barred from USFI membership through the Voorhis Act) was taking its own turn towards the various South and Central American revolutions particularly concentrating on Cuba, Nicaragua and so on. They began to actually “reject” orthodox trotskyist theory for a slogan of “Workers & Farmers Governments”. This “line” had no relevance to the British political situation but a faction around Brian Grogan would eventually split with the USFI to join the SWP (US) and form the still existent Communist League.

The faction fighting didn’t end there, Three other factions were formed around the same time which eventually led to the final demise of the IMG or Socialist League as it had become known when the groups that now form Socialist Resistance and Socialist Action were formed. The SR group also incorporated a small group of ex Workers Revolutionary Party members around Alan Thornett which continues (via a brief entry into Respect) to this day.

John Ross, the late Redmond O’Neil and others continued the publication of Socialist Action for a while and engaged in deep entryism inside the Labour Party before re-emerging as employees and bag carriers for Ken Livingstone securing rather large salaries for themselves during Ken’s tenure as Mayor of London

The group maintain a website but no longer publish a newspaper or magazine of any description, just the occasional leaflet. The SA group are also heavily involved in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the National Union of Students. Rumour has it that “they are colonising the Unite union” which would tie in with their stated desire to “combat the Labour right”. Whether the tactics used by Unite in Falkirk (regardless of the outcome) were originated by SA is unknown, as is the reason Fletcher was expelled from the group but such manoeuvrings are typical of trotskyist thinking.

Although they are considered by most, even on the far-left to be a dying group, there appears to be some mileage in them yet. I am sure Mr Ross and his followers will continue burrowing away inside the trade union and labour movement for some time to come.