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The Socialist Workers Party seems to have got itself into a little bit of trouble in its attempts to stage-manage Respect's forthcoming annual conference, says Mark Fischer
The circulated standing orders stipulate that Respect branches have the right to forward two resolutions, the national committee an unspecified number. But, significantly, there is no mention of the constitutional right of 20 individual Respect members to submit motions to conference. This provision in the constitution allowed some embarrassing resolutions onto the floor of conference last year - embarrassing for the SWP, that is. The comrades' revolutionary pretensions were exposed as empty posture. On issue after issue - open borders, secularism, the accountability of elected representatives, the nature of socialism itself - they spoke (some regretfully, others with real enthusiasm) - against basic principles of the working class and the Marxist politics these resolutions defended (see Weekly Worker November 4 2004). The frustration of the SWP leadership eventually boiled over. And who better to articulate pained exasperation than comrade Chris Bambery? Wearing that face of semi-manic determination he habitually dons when he has some hack-work to perform, the comrade strode to the conference rostrum to savage the hapless Greg Tucker of the International Socialist Group who had just finished speaking. The ISG comes from a historical strand of Trotskyism characterised by the substitution of proxies for both the programme of Marxism and - indeed - the working class itself. In its time, these 'locums' for the revolutionary working class have included students, women, gays, third world guerrillaism and the left wing of social democracy. The ISG really has hit rock bottom in Respect, however, and has pretty thoroughly discredited itself in the wider workers' movement. However, even this group is not craven enough for the SWP. Bambery took frothy exception to an uncontroversial suggestion from comrade Tucker. As he moved a resolution that would allow for the right of platforms and organised trends, he pointed out that the existing practice of allowing 20 members to put motions to the AGM already implied the organisational norms he was now asking the meeting to formally endorse. Comrade Bambery was outraged: "There is something undemocratic about people who can't get elected as delegates, who can't get their motions through locally, putting them through at conference," he spat. (He failed to remind his audience that SWPers had been under a three-line national whip to use their numerical weight to exclude even the mildest of critical voices from this national gathering. It would have been superfluous, of course. The majority of the now baying rows in front of him were, naturally enough, filled with members of his own group). Oddly, the comrades - Bambery included, one presumes - went on to pass a constitution that enshrined exactly this "undemocratic" right. Paragraph 4.6 states: "Any group of at least 20 members will have the right to organise within Respect and to present resolutions to conferences consistent with the agenda of the conference" (www.respectcoalition.com). What explains this idiocy? Well, although leaders of the SWP are control-freaks, they are pretty sloppy control-freaks. Within their own organisation, they are accustomed to operating without inconveniences such as democratic accountability to the members, either in terms of organisational norms or - heaven forefend - programmatic integrity. The ethos of the SWP leadership is 'If it works [ie, if it seems to increase the influence or numerical strength of the SWP] just do it!' - and pity the cadre who raises objections. Programmes and constitutions are as expendable as the leaves of autumn, if they impede the ravenous leadership hunger for organisational growth. In stark contrast to this bureaucratic negligence, the Bolsheviks and every serious revolutionary trend in our collective history have expended huge efforts debating and fine-tuning programmes and constitutions - a process the SWP tops appear to think was all rather a waste of time. This is why they were happy to let the ISG's Alan Thornett do the job for them without paying much attention to the detail. Thus, they have lumbered themselves with a 'situation'. The constitution unambiguously stipulates that 20 Respect members can submit motions to conference; the standing orders coming out of Respect national office ignores this, but this is simply untenable. In order to amend the constitution, a "two-thirds majority of the delegates" at annual conference is needed (paragraph 4.8). The CPGB is putting forward a number of draft motions for discussion and possible amendment amongst Respect members. We will be arguing for these positions in Respect branches up and down the country, but we are also organising to circumvent the inevitable gerrymandering from the SWP leadership. We will ensure that at least 20 Respect members lend their support to these motions to guarantee that conference is presented with the opportunity to debate and vote on issues of basic working class principle. Mark Fischer Click here to sign up to Respect Click here for the CPGB's resolutions to Respect conference Please add your support to all (or any one of them) by emailing email@example.com - and let us know if you have any amendments