Making Marxism superfluous: John Rees prostrates himself

Billed as a 'Convention of the left' - which, of course, it was not - the Greater Manchester Respect conference on Saturday October 8 was in general the kind of event we have unfortunately come to expect. It was opportunism with a mission. Respect's modest electoral success seems to have intoxicated John Rees. He is the man with his foot on the accelerator as the Socialist Workers Party hurtles towards disaster. Comrade Rees is angered by, well, most of Blair's repressive legislation; but not all, as this paper has reported. He gives the thumbs-up to legislation codifying 'incitement to religious hatred' as a crime, and he is very tetchy if criticised about it. Rees, like the rest of us, was appalled that an 82-year-old holocaust survivor could be expelled from the Labour Party conference and held by police under 'anti-terrorist' legislation; but his outrage collapses when it comes to religious hatred laws. Like the popular front leaders of the 1930s comrade Rees studiously avoids the word 'socialism' - contenting himself with empty platitudes like 'peace', 'justice' and 'equality' instead. He would like to be part of an "anti-war, pro-trade unionist, anti-privatisation Britain"; but he will not mention socialism. Comrade Rees only just stopped short of describing Marxism as irrelevant: all the injustices meted out by the Blair government, he said, are "the sort of thing that makes Marxism superfluous". An ambiguous comment, for sure, but one behind which the intent was clear: sure, we are Marxists, but simply being opposed to Blair is quite enough for 'the movement'. A clear case of not just bowing before spontaneity. John Rees is prostrating himself. Jonathan Neale, who is now presented as the face of the Campaign Against Climate Change rather than Globalise Resistance, urged comrades not to "confine themselves to a socialist ghetto". SWP policy-makers are putting their former Marxism into cold storage while they pursue populist causes and sentiments. Nobody wants to be confined to a "ghetto", but what is the point of courting popularity and votes for their own sake? The conference was broken up into a number of workshops after the main speakers had finished - a common technique at such gatherings which keeps awkward debate to a minimum or safely contains it. A prominent feature of discussion in the workshop I attended was the individual stories surrounding the asylum issue. Reports came in of 6am raids, suicides and deportations, all of which were of great concern. But, while Respect members do campaign hard for individual cases, and Respect "defends the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees to political asylum", it steers clear of economic migrants, whose rights can only really be upheld through a policy of open borders - surely this is the principled stance to adopt in the face of such horror stories? Respect should ratify a demand for the free movement of people at the November 19-20 annual conference.What Respect needs is some democratic air - and everything suggests that this is exactly what the SWP fears. If the CPGB's motions to national conference do nothing else, they highlight the SWP's appalling opportunism and might help in their own way ferment an internal rebellion - which alone can pull it back from the abyss. Carey Davies click here to read all our motions 20 signed up Respect members can present a motion to conference. Send an email to respect@cpgb.org.uk if you support one or all our motions. Remember, the deadline is Friday, October 14.