Socialist Labour Party (1903-1980)

From Academic Kids

The Socialist Labour Party was a socialist political party in the United Kingdom. It was established in 1903 as a splinter from the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) by James Connolly and SDF members impressed with the politics of the American socialist Daniel De Leon, who had formed a Socialist Labor Party in the USA.

The tendency first organised itself in 1902 around The Socialist newspaper, and when a leading member was expelled in 1903, most of the SDF's Scottish branches left to form the new party. Despite having substantive support in Scotland the majority of its membership was always in England.

The party was highly principled, and refused to work with reformists such as the SDF or the Independent Labour Party. Insisting on focusing on producing propaganda for the idea of an industrial union, they insisted members should avoid taking part in unemployment demonstrations as these were "sentimental" and built false hopes. The party argued for political action for propaganda purposes, but a syndicalist tendency the British Advocates of Industrial Union split from the party in 1906, disclaiming all political work.

Headquartered in Scotland, and devoted to union-building, the SLP was well-placed to take a leading role in the Red Clydeside movement. They had a great deal of influence on the Clyde Workers Committee, but failed to win it to socialism. While other members, such as J T Murphy, were influential in the Sheffield Workers Committee. They abandoned their syndicalist strategy of creating dual unions, and took up the position of working within existing unions to win them to their ideas.

As a result of their work in the industrial field and their relentless focus on educational work, something they had in common with John MacLean of the SDF/BSP, the SLP had grown to the point at which it could claim over 1,000 members in 1919. They were also extremely active in publicizing the struggle for national self determination then taking place in Ireland. That one of the leaders of the Irish national liberation struggle, James Connolly, had also been a founder of the SLP being noted proudly by writers in the SLP press in this period.

From 1918, excited by the Bolshevik success in the Russian Revolution, the SLP opened talks with the British Socialist Party with the aim of forming a British Communist Party. The leadership could not agree with the BSP's plan to affiliate the new party to the Labour Party, and refused to join the Communist Party of Great Britain. However in a confused factional struggle a section of the leadership around figures such as JT Murphy formed the Communist Unity Group and went on to join the CPGB. Another leaing member of the SLP, William Paul, also joined.

A small remnant of the SLP was reorganised by William Cotten and survived for many years. Although the party seems to have been moribund by the 1960s it was revived by younger people and only finally dissolved in 1980. One splinter group in Edinburgh, the British Section of the International Socialist Labour Party, turned towards Trotskyism and became the Revolutionary Socialist Party, fusing with the Revolutionary Socialist League in 1938.

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