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Socialist Party of Great Britain

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 2665 SPGB
Held at: Socialist Party of Great Britain
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Full title: Socialist Party of Great Britain
Date(s): 1894-2003
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 60
Name of creator(s): Socialist Party of Great Britain | 1904-
The Socialist Party


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB) was formed on in 1904 by a number of disaffected members who spilt from the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) (founded 1881). The inaugural meeting was attended by about 140 people. The object of the Party was `the establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community'. An Executive Committee was established to manage the day-to-day affairs of the party, all binding policy decisions were to be determined at the Party's Annual Conference, and party meetings were to be open to the public. A declaration of principles was adopted which stated the working class position in a capitalist society and a guide to working class action for as long as capitalism lasted.

As an 'impossibilist' organisation it opposed social transformation by means of reform of the existing capitalist system and stressed the importance of socialist education and knowledge of Marx's economic and political writings.

Its immediate task were to arrange meetings and arranged the sale of literature to advertise their cause. The Party approved the use of a number of brochures including 'Socialism and the Worker' by F A Sorge, 'Wage labour and Capital', K Marx, 'Socialism and Radicalism', Edward Aveling, `No compromise', W Liebknecht; `The Socialist revolution', K Kautsky, and 'How I became a Socialist, William Morris. It also began a journal - The Socialist Standard, in 1904. The SPGB opposed the outbreak of World War 1, and was hostile to what it perceived as a capitalist quarrel for which governments were sending workers to their deaths in battle. It opposed conscription, but made allowances for men with families who could not accept the consequences of resisting conscription (and its economic compulsion). Its members who did appear before conscription tribunals generally had their applications dismissed.

They were also opposed to World War 2, when they again opposed conscription. This time however they were more successful at tribunal hearings, often winning their case on humanitarian grounds, though some members did receive prison sentences. An SPGB parliamentary candidate ran for the first time in the 1945 General Election. Clifford Groves stood for the seat of Paddington North. He was unsuccessful, but did receive 472 votes, and despite the cost of the campaign - 900 - the party was not discouraged. It has continued to field candidates in successive General Elections. Its membership peaked in 1949 with 1100 members, then declined to about 600 by 1955.

The Party met initially at private homes, with the first meetings of the Executive being held at the Communist Club, Charlotte St. It had no permanent home until 1909 when it rented premises at 10 Sandland St, Bedford Row. In 1912, it moved to 193 Grays Inn Rd, then to 28 Union St in 1918, it occupied various premises until 1951 when it made its final move from Rugby Chambers to Clapham High St, where it remains today.

Throughout its history, the party has been characterised by various controversies and debates about socialist theory. In 1991, two branches were expelled - they are also known as The Socialist Party of Great Britain.

The Party maintains links with overseas organisations of the World Socialist Movement, located in Canada, New Zealand and the USA.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB) comprising:

minutes of the Executive Committee, 1904-1998; (53 vols, 3 files)

minutes of committees for Ballots, 1942-1952; Editorial, 1942-1953; Overseas Secretary, 1942-1950; Paid Officials, 1943-1944; Standing Orders, 1950-1952; Membership Cards, 1952-1953; Full Time Posts, 1949-1952; Violence, 1948; Backward Countries, 1952; Class Struggle, 1952; Propaganda, 1950-1955; Education, 1952-1953; Literature, 1945-1952; Propaganda Research, 1950-1951; Weekly News, 1950; Speakers test, 1945-1953; Summer School, 1952; Declaration of Principles, 1951-1952; Book Department, 1943-1952; Provincial Propaganda, 1943-1949; Publicity, 1947-1952; Socials, 1945-1952; Socialist Standard, 1945-1946; Trade Union Advisor, 1944-1946; miscellaneous committees, 1943-1946, and sub-committees 1952; (4 boxes)

papers relating to Annual Conferences of the Party, including Executive Committee Report to the Annual Conference, 1911-1995; reports of Annual Conferences, 1936-1995; and Conference agenda and papers, 1957-1995; (3 boxes)

papers relating to Delegate Meetings including Executive Committee reports to the Meetings, 1914-1995; reports of the Meetings, 1914-1995; and Meeting agenda and papers, 1957-1995; (3 boxes)

Party General Secretary's files including correspondence, 1941-1977; and case files, 1911-1985 (5 boxes, 7 files)

membership records including registers and forms, 1904-1950; lists, 1980s-1990s; (16 boxes, 1 bundle)

papers distributed to members including circulars, 1943-1995; discussion reports, 1955-1995; (1 box)

news cuttings relating to the Party compiled for distribution as a quarterly newsletter, 1998-2003; (1 box)

printed publications of the Education Committee, 1970-1995; (1 box)

material relating to General and Local elections, including leaflets, 1905-2003 and papers, 1945-2003; (5 boxes, 10 files)

records of SPGB branches and groups including: branch minute books of Bloomsbury / Camden, 1937-1978; Camberwell / South West London, 1947-1994; Marylebone, 1942-1951; Paddington, 1946-1954; Croydon, 1954-1955; Greenford / Ealing, 1967-1974; Hamilton, 1942-1945; South West London, 1944-1950; Hampstead, 1957-1960; Manchester, 1954-1957; Battersea, 1911-1939; Wood Green, 1910-1914; (33 vols); branch journals from branches including Dagenham and Romford, 1935-1936; Brighton Line, 1969-1972; Islington, 1979-1980; Dundee, 1988; Eccles, 1988-1991; Edinburgh, 1993; West London, 1990; group journal from Colchester; the Campaign for the Abolition of Money, 1993; and Socialist Comment, 1979-1980; (1 box)

papers, pamphlets, photos, journals, relating to companion parties including the World Socialist Party of the US 1930-1985; Socialist Party of Canada, 1914-2003; Socialist Party of New Zealand, 1934-1970; Socialist Party of Australia, 1934-1970; Socialist Party of Ireland, 1949-1993; Bund Demokratischer Sozialisten, 1966-2000; World Socialist Party of India, 1995-1998; also Africa, Sweden, Jamaica, Belgium; and the Workers Literature Bureau (J A Dawson, Australia), 1945-1948 (6 boxes); copies of minutes of companion parties, 1965-1995 (incomplete) (1 box);

papers relating to Libertarian Communism (a splinter group of the SPGB) including journals and miscellaneous correspondence, 1970-1980 (1 box);

papers relating to relations with other oranisations, 1903-1963 (1 box);

subject files relating to World Wars One and Two (1 box); 'Form C' - branch returns, 1956-1962 (1 box); Turkish Group, 1990 (1 file);

accounts, 1944-1958 (1 box);

unpublished manuscripts of Francis Hawkins [1950s] (2 boxes); Sydney Merry, (2 files); David Finlay, 1989-1990 (1 box);

'The principal contributions of the Socialist Party of Great Britain to the development of Marxian political and economic theory', David Anthony Perrin, 1993, PhD Thesis, University of Liverpool; The origins and meaning of the Political theory of Impossibilism, Stephen Coleman, 1984, PhD Thesis, University College London; The paper war conflict and democracy in the Socialist Party of Canada, 1960-1970, Ronald Elbert, Jun 2001, MA Thesis, University of Massachusetts;

notebook of unidentified author [1930s] containing notes for lectures and cuttings re socialism; record of Party Decisions, 1932-1958 (1 vol); minutes of the History and Economics Class, 1941-1943 (1 vol); Record of Motorcycle journeys, 1934-1936, by unidentified Party member (1 vol);

photographs relating to members, meetings, conferences, rallies and event, 1904-2003 (3 boxes and 10 framed prints);

posters advertising the Party, 1945, 1980s-1990s (1 bundle);

ephemera, 1950-2003 (1 box);

Publications including:
Yes Utopia - we have the technology, Ron Cook, 1997; The futility of Reformism, Samuel Leight; Social Democrat, 1897-1903 (14 vols); Justice, 1894-1902 (8 vols).

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

As outlined above

Conditions governing access:

By appointment only. Contact the Socialist Party of Great Britain, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 7UN. Tel 020 7622 3811.
Access to current membership records only by special permission of the Executive Committee.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopies available.

Finding aids:

Box list

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Created and held in situ by the SPGB.

Allied Materials

Related material:

The SPGB also holds a related library and pamphlet collection, 1890s-present.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

The Monument, the story of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, Robert Barltrop, Pluto Press, London, 1975; The Socialist Party of Great Britain, politics, economics and Britain's oldest socialist party, David A Perrin, Wrexham, 2000

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Historical Manuscripts Commission's On-Line National Register of Archives; The Monument, the story of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, Robert Barltrop, Pluto Press, London, 1975; The Socialist Party of Great Britain, politics, economics and Britain's oldest socialist party, David A Perrin, Wrexham, 2000.
Compiled by Alison Field as part of the London Signpost Survey Project.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
September 2003

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