TV Review from the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard
Last month—5th February to be precise—saw an unusual occurrence. The Socialist Party was featured on a BBC TV news report. Less unusually for the BBC, the report was not entirely accurate. We do not wish to whinge unnecessarily, only to set out the facts on the basis that some recognition from the BBC, however inadequate, is probably better than none at all. In any case, we were not the main victims of the broadcast—there was a far more deserving candidate for that.
The day after this news item the Trotskyist sect previously known as Militant held a conference to re-launch itself as “Socialist Party”, and its newspaper as The Socialist. So BBC2’s Newsnight filed a report on this organisation’s attempt to refurbish its tarnished Trotskyist image, while purloining the name of an existing political organisation—us—in the process. Mark Mardell, who is rather more used to swanning around the Palace of Westminster in search political titbits, compiled a feature which included footage of our Head Office and an interview with a Socialist Party member about Militant’s latest (and possibly temporary) venture into political banditry.
However, if Mardell’s reporting of us is anything to go by it is understandable why MPs are getting so upset with the media these days. In his voice-over he claimed that we had changed our name too, from the Socialist Party of Great Britain to the Socialist Party, the clear implication being that it was a bit rich of us to complain about Militant’s own change of name. In this attempt to make an interesting story even better, Mardell got it wrong, though whether it was deliberate or simply because he has a very bad memory we do not know.
The fact about this is that throughout our existence since 1904 we have used the full and shortened versions of our name interchangeably, though for what must be fairly self-evident publicity and propaganda reasons we have for some years preferred the shortened version. The BBC Newsnight team were made well aware of this, as if a visit and look around our Head Office was not evidence enough.
Rather more galling than this minor irritation, however, was Mardell’s description of Militant as being our “comrades” before we fell out over usage of the name Socialist Party. Such a comment is so inaccurate as to be laughable in many ways, though unfortunately it has more serious implications. The idea that a genuine socialist organisation committed to the overthrow of capitalism in all its forms should be lumped in with an elitist sect deserves comment from us, especially a sect which has always opposed the socialist project in favour of reforms and state-run capitalism.
The Militant Tendency—in all its various forms over the years—has been an implacable opponent of genuine socialism and democracy, and like the rest of the Left, has shown an unremitting hostility to real socialists and our attempts to win workers away from support for the profit system. Our disagreement with Militant is not the product of some Monty Pythonesque sectarianism or factionalism, as portrayed on Newsnight, merely disguising a quibble over tactics or personalities, but is a thoroughgoing disagreement about politics in its entirety. Apart from the fact that we both lay claim to the word “socialist”. Militant and the Socialist Party have nothing common at all, as anyone with even a passing acquaintance with either of us must know.
For starters. Militant favour political leadership and centralism, whereas we believe in the widest possible democracy. Militant stand for state-run capitalism under the rule of the vanguard party (themselves), we stand for the complete abolition of capitalism along with its economic categories of money, profits and wages, and instead agitate for common ownership and production solely for use. Militant have always told workers to vote for the capitalist Labour Party, we have always resolutely opposed it, advising workers not to put their class enemies in charge of the machinery of government and the armed forces. Militant thought Russia to be an advance on western-style private enterprise capitalism. Right from the outset we said it was a hideous dictatorship over the working class which led to state capitalism and warned the working class about the would-be Bolsheviks in Britain who would use the workers for their own gain . . . organisations like the Communist Party, the SWP and Militant themselves. Need we go on?
When Jeremy Paxman interviewed Militant “leader” Peter Taaffe at the end of the item it was a pity no Socialist Party members was allowed to engage in the brief discussion to point all this out. It was also a pity that Paxman didn’t go for the jugular in his accustomed manner, adopting a (somewhat understandable) air of weariness to Taaffe’s meanderings about nationalising the top 150 monopolies and introducing a two-hour week, or whatever it was, to cure unemployment. He should certainly have pressed Taaffe on his organisation’s plans to stand 28 candidates in safe Labour seats, and asked him whether Militant would tell workers to vote for the Labour Party as usual everywhere else—this, after all, being a party they now cynically describe as “pro-capitalist”, as if it wasn’t before!
Perhaps on reflection Paxman didn’t feel the need to press Taaffe harder on any of this, because most of what he said was nonsensical and this must have been obvious enough to the viewers. Indeed, the abiding impression left by Taaffe was that there must be a village somewhere that has been deprived of its idiot, though one suspects that if this is the case they will manage to get along quite well without him. The same could be said of the working class as a whole who, beleaguered by the profit system and its representatives, need Militant’s support for capitalism and Taaffe and co.’s tactical posturings like the proverbial hole in the head.