Socialist Action (UK)

Socialist Action is a small Trotskyist group in the United Kingdom.[1] From the mid-1980s Socialist Action became an entryist organisation, attempting to take over other organisations, with members using code names and not revealing their affiliation.[2][3] It maintains a website but no publicly visible formal organisation.

Socialist Action
Political positionFar-left
International affiliationNone

The organisation was linked with the 2000–2008 Greater London mayoral administrations of Ken Livingstone, although Livingstone was never a member.[2] Four of Livingstone's key advisers were Socialist Action members; all made the "top 25" in the Evening Standard's 2007 list of the most influential people in London.[4][5]


The group was founded in 1982 when the International Marxist Group entered the Labour Party and changed its name to the Socialist League. It became generally known by the name of its publication, Socialist Action, which first appeared on 16 March 1983.[3] The group organised around the newspaper, but also had a bookshop The Other Bookshop, in Islington, as well as a printing press, Lithoprint Ltd, in Stoke Newington, which it still owns.[3]

In September 1983, assuming that the Labour Party's actions against the Militant group would extend to Socialist Action as well, the group decided to disappear from public view, closing down the bookshop, and taking other measures to guarantee invisibility.[3] Members were assigned pen names, and after the closure of the bookshop met in an assortment of pubs.[3] The group adopted an entryist strategy "to protect members from any potential Militant-style purge".[3]

By the mid-1980s, the group had around 500 members.[3] Working with increasing secrecy in the Labour Party, often under the auspices of other apparently independent organisations, its members became supporters of Ken Livingstone and the Campaign Group of Labour MPs.

The group's character changed in a wave of splits in the mid-1980s, beginning in 1985 when a minority, led by Phil Hearse, Dave Packer, Davy Jones, and Jane Kelly formed the International Group, whose members were recognised by the International as remaining individual members. In 1987 the International Group merged with the Socialist Group to form the International Socialist Group and publish Socialist Outlook. The remaining majority of the Socialist League consisted of two currents. One, led by Brian Grogan, was part of the Pathfinder tendency led by the Socialist Workers Party (United States). The Grogan current was expelled by the Central Committee led by John Ross, and became the Communist League (UK, 1988).

The remainder of the group drew pessimistic conclusions from the fall of the Stalinist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. It continued to define itself as a Trotskyist group. It considers the Soviet model to have been preferable to capitalism for the working class, but it has always criticised that model for its bureaucratic and undemocratic features, accepting Trotsky's definition of the USSR as a degenerated workers' state. Socialist Action participated in the 1989 and 1990 Fourth International Youth Summer Camps but suffered another split after the 1991 World Congress. Small groups of Socialist Action members regularly resigned and joined the International Group, and its successor, the International Socialist Group, between the original split in 1985 and the 1991. At the 1991 World Congress of the Fourth International, the group was given equal status within the International with the International Socialist Group. At the 1995 world congress the ISG replaced Socialist Action as the British section.

Ken LivingstoneEdit

The group's association with Ken Livingstone goes back to 1985, when the group's leader, John Ross, became Livingstone's economic advisor.[3] In the mid-1980s the group adopted Livingstone as something of a figurehead, regarding Arthur Scargill and Tony Benn as spent forces,[3] and according to Atma Singh was "instrumental" in getting Livingstone elected to the Labour Party's National Executive Committee in 1987 and 1988.[3]

Running as an independent candidate for Mayor in 2000, Livingstone's decision to appoint members of Socialist Action to his administration during his first term drew criticism in the media.[6] When Livingstone re-appointed his administration in 2004, members of Socialist Action were described as his "stooges".[7] In a January 2008 article that was subsequently spun as revealing a "secret Marxist cell" at the GLA, Atma Singh, a former member of SA who had been Policy Advisor on Asian Affairs to Ken Livingstone from 2001 to 2007, detailed some of the history and activities of Socialist Action, accusing members of planning a "bourgeois democratic revolution", trying to accumulate power and manipulating the Mayor.[2] A subsequent episode of the Channel 4 documentary series Dispatches, "The Court of Ken", presented by journalist Martin Bright, featured Singh and others making these same allegations.[8] The advisers named, including chief of staff Simon Fletcher, deputy chief of staff and director of public affairs and transport Redmond O'Neill, economic adviser John Ross, green adviser Mark Watts and culture adviser Jude Woodward, refused to state whether or not they are still active as Socialist Action, and a spokesman for Livingstone responded to the charges by referring to Singh's removal from his job for "failure to discharge his duties" and calling Singh "an embittered ex-employee".[9] Livingstone referred to the claims in the Dispatches documentary as a hatchet job.[10]

In 2007 Livingstone changed the GLA rules so that his eight key advisers, four associated with SA (including John Ross and the late Redmond O'Neill), who as temporary appointments would not normally have been entitled to severance pay, received an average of £200,000 each.[citation needed]

Other activityEdit

Socialist Action was heavily involved in the publication and editorial control of Socialist Campaign Group News.[citation needed] Its members have maintained leading positions in many campaigns - the National Abortion Campaign, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, National Assembly Against Racism and various coalitions against the wars against Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, for example. As a result, Socialist Action exert an influence beyond that which might be expected from so small a grouping.

In 2001 it stopped publishing its journal, also named Socialist Action, but continue to organise as a faction, for instance as the Student Broad Left[citation needed]. Some of its activists played leading roles in organising the 2004 European Social Forum.[11] Additionally its members continue to publish occasional pamphlets and leaflets. It has relaunched its website, with an indepth analysis of the world economic situation following the economic crisis. The article applies the Marxist concept of the organic composition of capital to understand how the US economy is in a long-term decline and in turn how the non-capitalist character of China is helping it to emerge from the crisis.[12] Socialist Action also participated in Respect - The Unity Coalition after the 2007 split in that party.[13] Several of its supporters became members of the party and one served as its national treasurer.

Jeremy CorbynEdit

Following Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour Party leader and Leader of the Opposition in 2015, it was claimed (by former member Atma Singh) that Socialist Action were building "a real power base" around Corbyn.[14] Simon Fletcher - who according to Singh had been on the SA central committee - was appointed Corbyn's Chief of Staff[15] while John Ross has been linked to Corbyn's inner circle.[16]


  1. ^ Nick Cohen "Why Ken Livingstone is not fit for office", The Observer, 20 January 2008
  2. ^ a b c Atma Singh, The Times, 19 January 2008 Atma Singh's full article on Ken Livingstone
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Andrew Hosken (2008), Ken: The Ups and Downs of Ken Livingstone, Arcadia Books
  4. ^ Ross Lydall "Ken and his cronies top new London power list" Archived 14 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine, Evening Standard, 5 October 2007
  5. ^ Matthew Taylor "From maverick outsider to establishment candidate. But can Livingstone win again?", The Guardian, 24 April 2008
  6. ^ Leo McKinstry (13 July 2002). "Revenge of the Killer Newt". The Spectator.
  7. ^ Keith Lee (8 July 2004). "London's Mayor Livingstone gives aides massive salary rise". World Socialist Web Site.
  8. ^ "The Court of Ken" Part 1 of 5, YouTube
  9. ^ Jonathan Oliver (20 January 2008). "Ken Livingstone's aides 'in secret Marxist cell'". The Sunday Times.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Marianne Maeckelbergh, (2009), Will of the Many: How the Alterglobalisation Movement Is Changing the Face of Democracy, Pluto Press, p. 76
  12. ^ Socialist Action
  13. ^ Workers' Liberty
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^

External linksEdit

Preceded by
International Marxist Group
British Section of the Fourth International
Succeeded by
International Socialist Group