Socialist Equality Party (UK)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Britain)

The principled foundations of the Socialist Equality Party

1. The Socialist Equality Party (SEP) is the British section of the Fourth International, the world party of socialist revolution founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938 and led today by the International Committee. The International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) represents the continuity of the struggle waged by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky to forge an independent revolutionary party of the working class for the overthrow of the capitalist profit system. This heritage is outlined in The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party, published by the SEP (US) in 2008, which also constitutes the programmatic basis for the work of the SEP in Britain.

2. The construction of a revolutionary tendency is possible only on the basis of an internationalist perspective. As Leon Trotsky insisted in 1928:

“In our epoch, which is the epoch of imperialism, i.e., of world economy and world politics under the hegemony of finance capital, not a single communist party can establish its programme by proceeding solely or mainly from conditions and tendencies of developments in its own country.… In the present epoch, to a much larger extent than in the past, the national orientation of the proletariat must and can flow only from a world orientation and not vice versa. Herein lies the basic and primary difference between communist internationalism and all varieties of national socialism”.[1]

3. Trotsky’s words, written in the midst of the protracted breakdown of world capitalism that spanned the first half of the 20th century, are even more relevant today. Beginning with the crash of 2008, world capitalism has entered a new period of systemic crisis. The multi-trillion dollar bailout that was meant to rescue the global finance system has brought national economies to the verge of bankruptcy. The ruling class has seized on this crisis to launch an offensive against the social position of the working class. Its aim is not only to place the burden of the bank bailouts onto working people. In Britain and throughout Europe, the ruling elites intend to smash up every remaining vestige of the welfare state measures enacted following the Second World War and to introduce levels of exploitation hitherto impossible outside of fascist or military dictatorships.

4. At the centre of this crisis is the United States. American capitalism is in an advanced state of decay. Its decline as the premier global power is the single most destabilising factor in international politics, as it seeks to counteract its diminished economic position through militarism and colonial wars of conquest. The global integration of economic life means that no country is sheltered from the storm. The fundamental contradictions at the heart of the capitalist system, between globalised production and the division of the world into antagonistic nation states based on private ownership, are reasserting themselves. All claims that China can replace the US as the engine of the global economy are false. China relies heavily on the US and Western European markets. This interdependence only fuels the growth of inter-imperialist antagonisms between the US, China and the European powers that lead to trade and ultimately military war.

5. The assault on the livelihood of billions signifies the re-emergence of the class struggle as the decisive force in world history. At the same time, globalisation has created vast new battalions of the working class, which face a common enemy and are bound together by productive processes that transcend national boundaries. Their struggles must be consciously unified and directed to the conquest of political power. The state apparatus of the ruling class must be brought down and replaced by workers’ governments that will re-organise economic life on socialist foundations.

6. The perspective of proletarian internationalism involves not merely invoking solidarity between workers in different countries. It must take organisational form through the construction of the Fourth International as the revolutionary leadership of the working class. No national organisation can develop and maintain a revolutionary orientation except through constant collaboration with its international co-thinkers. All tendencies that reject this strategic conception, in the name of maintaining national independence and freedom of action, only “free” themselves to capitulate to the national bourgeoisie and world imperialism.

7. The Socialist Equality Party is the product of a protracted, decades-long struggle to forge a socialist and internationalist party in Britain. An examination of this history must address the long political career of Gerry Healy, the most significant figure to emerge from the British workers’ movement. Healy was a powerful orator and an organiser of great talent and drive. But what set him apart, and made him tower over his contemporaries, were his determined efforts to establish the political independence of the working class from the Stalinist and social democratic apparatuses, under the highly unfavourable conditions that faced the Trotskyist movement during the post-war period.

8. The subsequent political degeneration of Healy and the tendency he led neither detracts from, nor negates the significance of, a principled struggle waged for more than two decades, which constitutes an essential foundation of the work of the Socialist Equality Party today. While so many others were to abandon a revolutionary perspective, Healy for many years played a critical role in the fight against Pabloite opportunism, which sought to liquidate the Fourth International. It was this stand that preserved the continuity of Trotskyism. This continuity has nothing in common with concepts of infallible leaders or of apostolic succession. As with all history, that of the Trotskyist movement involves conflict, sharp breaks and even splits. It is a history of struggle. But this complex process is the necessary means through which the working class becomes conscious of itself as a revolutionary force. Its study is the essential basis for the education of a new generation of socialists.


Leon Trotsky (1972) The Third International After Lenin, Pathfinder Press, pp. 3-4.