Opportunities and problems

Emily Bransom reports from the Respect post-election rally in Manchester

Numerous contradictions within the politics of the Socialist Workers Party were highlighted at the Respect post-election rally in Manchester on Tuesday June 7. About 200 people turned up to Central Hall to hear, among others, Chris Bambery and the Respect candidate for Birmingham Sparkbrook and Small Heath, Salma Yaqoob. Much was said about the forthcoming G8 protests in Edinburgh by a speaker from Zimbabwe and there was repeated praise for the election campaigns around the country. As people took their seats, they were greeted by a large screen projection of George Galloway defending himself in front of the US senate committee. This started the meeting off with frequent cheers and applause. Refreshingly though, the emphasis was not all placed on Galloway. Organisers noted the achievements of all candidates in "really showing Blair what's what" and the need for continuing the campaigns in between elections. Listening to comrade Bambery, you would at first have been forgiven for believing that Respect was in fact a socialist party after all. After criticising the stance of Bush and Blair on poverty in Africa, he spoke directly about the working class elements of the Respect coalition. He claimed that the broad values of the acronym, such as 'peace' and 'equality' are generally supported by everyone, but what really held Respect together was the fact that "we are all workers". Indeed, he went on to describe how Respect "is not a normal political party" and "will not play the parliamentary game". To demonstrate this, he reported on the occupation, led by Respect members, of a fire station in Bethnal Green earlier that day. Yet when it came to explaining how best Respect offered a way forward for the working class, the verging-on-revolutionary rhetoric ended. Of course we should not advocate ID cards, expensive housing and private health care - we know that. Tell us how you are going to combat the structures that maintain them! Instead, comrade Bambery pandered to Bob Geldof and praised George Galloway as "the voice of the poor, the dispossessed and the oppressed". This may be apt - unless you are poor, dispossessed and in need of an abortion, in which case you are oppressed by Galloway's own reactionary beliefs. This contradiction was further emphasised with Farhat Khan's speech that discussed asylum-seekers' struggles in Britain. She could not thank the party enough and claimed that the support her campaign had received from Respect on granting women asylum had been "wonderful". This was interesting, considering Galloway's own views on 'controlled immigration'. To this extent, the meeting showed how the SWP's difficulty in maintaining its own revolutionary socialist face, while at the same time putting its all into Respect, is not the only problem it has to deal with. It also has to try and ensure cohesion in situations where it has already ceded the principle of accountability in relation to Galloway. Contradictions such as these are rife within a party that includes both socialists and muslim 'community leaders'. It was able to survive the general election, but, judging by Tuesday's performance, Respect will find it difficult to maintain coherence in circumstances where the unifying potency of anti-war feelings is diminished. Salma Yaqoob also alluded to the party's socialist traits and tried to convince the meeting that Respect is and always has been about solidarity - but what type of solidarity? The focus was more about joining the white wrist band protest in Edinburgh than the solidarity of the working class against capitalist state forces. In spite of her tiny frame, Yaqoob spoke forcefully and generated enthusiastic applause, proving that Galloway is not the only gifted orator within Respect. She advised us that Respect is the only party in the UK that stands for the left issues of social justice and equality. Yet even the Conservatives are capable of using such phrases. She reiterated the claim that Respect fills the gap left by New Labour's move to Thatcherite politics. Yet what about the gap in British politics that has never been filled? The opportunity exists for the formation of a truly revolutionary party that is fighting for the working class. Respect does not claim to be this vehicle and this merely reinforces the question of why the likes of John Rees are so intent on the SWP being central to its activities. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, there were no opportunities for questions or debate. We were, however, invited to stay and "network". In response to my queries, individual SWP members showed no concern for the consequences of John Rees's demand that the SWP should be made to "fit round Respect, not the other way around". Indeed, most seemed not to have read their own 'Party notes' and so had no idea what they were being asked about! Most interesting and worrying of all, however, was the commonly stated belief that comrade Rees's call was logical and undeniably positive for the working class. The insinuation is that uniting under a Galloway and thus receiving widespread publicity in the capitalist press is better for revolutionary socialism than good politics is. To end on a positive note though, with the CPGB Summer Offensive in full swing, one useful tip did come out of the meeting. Respect is not hesitant when it comes to asking for money! Over £500 was raised in a two-minute whip-around in between speakers. Emily Bransom