Respect: draft declaration matches the pig of a name
Following a short bout of hectic negotiations the interim steering committee of Respect - a pig of a name, standing for ‘respect’, ‘equality’, ‘socialism’, ‘peace’, ‘environmentalism’, ‘community’ and ‘trade unionism’ - has publicly issued a draft declaration. In terms of content it is much as expected. No shocks and no surprises.
The draft, agreed on December 7, comes under the signatures of George Galloway, Ken Loach, George Monbiot, Salma Yaqoob, John Rees, Nick Wrack and Lynda Smith. Apparently Mark Serwotka - PCS general secretary - is still undecided. Bob Crow is though due to present the declaration to his RMT executive.
For the moment the draft is not subject to amendment. On January 25, however, those individuals who have paid over their £10 sub to Respect - the Unity Coalition will have the opportunity to debate and vote upon proposed changes at its ‘Convention of the left’. This conference will also elect a steering committee which is to be responsible for guiding the coalition through to the ‘super Thursday’ elections - European parliament and the Greater London Authority - in June 2004 and for some time after that.
No constitution has yet been discussed. A national conference is scheduled, possibly in the autumn, which will be presented with drafts for a constitution and a political programme. Nevertheless there is agreement that branches must be quickly formed and political and trade union organisations encouraged to affiliate.
Undoubtedly the Respect coalition is a product of the huge anti-war upsurge: the draft declaration proudly states that the “greatest mass movement of our age has brought us together”. And, as we have argued before, the anti-war movement urgently needs to be harnessed into a positive movement for radical social change. Either that or the anger, enthusiasm and momentum will eventually dissipate.
Millions marched against the war and occupation of Iraq, yet they find no effective instrument for themselves in any of the existing parties - neither in the Liberal Democrats nor the Greens and certainly not New Labour. The Respect coalition is designed to overcome the “crisis of representation” and tackle the “democratic deficit” which exists “at the heart of politics in Britain”. Aims, needless to say, we communists are entirely in sympathy with.
Politically the Respect coalition basically repeats the “priority pledges” contained at the end of People before profit (the programme agreed by the Socialist Alliance for the 2001 general election). With this or that caveat, its draft platform consists of worthwhile and eminently supportable points: eg, “an end to the war and occupation in Iraq”; an end to all privatisation; “repeal of the Tory anti-union laws”; opposition to “all forms of discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs (or lack of them), sexual orientation, disabilities, national origin or citizenship”; the “right to self-determination of every individual in relation to their religious (or non- religious) beliefs, as well as sexual choices”; “defence of the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers”; and “a world in which the democratic demands of the people are carried out; a world based on need, not profit”.
Even where we strongly disagree tactically - eg, over the European Union and voting ‘no’ in any referendum over the euro (this plays into the hands of the “anti-European xenophobic right wing” and we therefore urge an active boycott) - there is room for optimism. It must be stressed that what we have in front of us is a draft.
Hence the CPGB is even now working in cooperation with others in order to hammer out a raft of common amendments. Respect’s declaration would, for example, be much improved by rejecting the hint, or suggestion, that there once flourished a golden age of socialism and democracy in Britain. Neither the railways nor any other public services can be brought “back” under democratic ownership and control. What history gave us between the 1940s and 1980s was not democratic control and ownership. It was state capitalism.
We should also definitely and unambiguously present ourselves as committed secularists. That does not mean a Respect version of Charles Windsor’s plea for ending the Church of England’s privileged position by incorporating the other main religions into the institutions of the state as valued equals. Let us aggressively combat the multiculturalist panacea of all cults happily indoctrinating the population using the state as a platform and a resource. Rather secularism means the separation of all religions from the state, including the armed forces, schools and the BBC. There should be no discrimination, but religion should be treated by the state as a purely private matter.
Migration is another area which cries out for clarity. Instead of vague platitudes about “defence of rights”, the coalition ought to straightforwardly oppose all immigration laws. If capital is free to move anywhere on the planet, so too should labour. Migration should be proclaimed as a welcome and progressive phenomenon which subjectively helps to overcome national isolation and narrow-mindedness and objectively unites the workers of Britain with those elsewhere.
We could also usefully emphasise that a world in which the “democratic demands of the people are carried out”, a world based on “need, not profit”, is, and can only but be, a world in which capitalism has been positively superseded by socialism and communism, and where the rule of the working class majority has replaced the rule of capital. Respect ought to put itself firmly within the revolutionary tradition of communism, as represented by Marx, Engels, Bebel, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky, Gramsci and others.
Clearly the interim committee has overlooked, or ignored, a number of key subjects. Perhaps the most glaring omission concerns the constitution.
Loudly protesting against the democratic deficit in Britain - and there certainly is one - surely obliges us to come forward with positive answers. We shall argue for a bold commitment to democracy and national self-determination: abolish the monarchy and the House of Lords, establish a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales and a united Ireland.
When it comes to Respect’s autumn conference, if not well before, it is vital to go from a list of restricted, skeletal bullet points to a fleshed out programme. Updating, suitably rewording and where necessary enriching People before profit would be an excellent initiative. This document was agreed virtually unanimously by the Socialist Alliance (with the exception of the now departed Workers Power). Therefore it commands widespread and proven support. If the Respect coalition adopted such a comprehensive programme it would represent a significant step forward and lay firm foundations for the necessary transformation from a loose election coalition to a fully-fledged party.
Without such a perspective - both in terms of a stated goal and ongoing campaigning - there exists a real danger that Respect will not fly from success to success, but simply fall apart after dismally crashing in June’s elections. Whatever Socialist Workers Party national organiser Chris Bambery might imagine, there is no easy way for the left to “break out of the Monster Raving Loony league” when it comes to votes and challenging the “neoliberal centre-left and neoliberal centre-right” (SWP ‘Party notes’, December 8). Just adding a few names, no matter how prestigious, to what already exists does not actually take us very far.
As shown by the markedly different performances of the SA and the Scottish Socialist Party, people do not normally vote for an on-off united front - except in derisory numbers. Nor are they likely to flock to a loose, politically amorphous coalition. People in Scotland do, though, vote for a party, which for all its left nationalist faults and reformist limitations, has established a record of activity and stands on a coherent and testable programme. To great effect the SSP’s representatives also pledge themselves to only take a parliamentary salary equal to the average wage of a skilled worker.
However, Respect is there for the making. We have heard too many foolish, misplaced and quite frankly spineless objections by those who wish to enforce a boycott on the whole thing. Eg, they cannot possibly join because it is formed top-down, it is not socialist or working class enough for them, the Muslim Association of Britain has been invited to join, it is led by a rightwing scoundrel who is irredeemably tainted by association with Saddam Hussein, etc.
Sectarians are, of course, free to do as they please. But Marxists take life, including the mass anti-war movement, as their starting point: we do not try to impose impossible preconditions on it. Our position is crystal clear: reject all the slurs, especially those directed against Galloway, and seek critical engagement.
Respect is embryonic, unmistakably the product of the anti-war movement and led from the left. We shall therefore expend our immediate efforts in fighting for democratic structures, transparency, political inclusivity, programmatic development and a civilised culture of debate, where polemics are viewed healthily, as positive contributions, not automatically dismissed as akin to siding with “McCarthyism” and being a “friend” of New Labour.