Lethargic decline

Anne Mc Shane reports from the latest meeting of Hackney Respect, which discussed climate change and chose delegates to Respect conference

Hackney Respect met on November 3 to discuss the issue of climate change and select delegates for national conference. The decision on delegates had been put off from the October 10 pre-conference meeting so that, in the words of the chair, the selection could be made "at a much bigger meeting" (Weekly Worker October 12). The Socialist Workers Party-dominated local committee wanted more time to recruit - there were only 95 signed-up members on October 10 - and to put together a safe bloc of delegates that would go through with little opposition. Just days before the meeting, an email went out asking for proposals for a slate. The official slate, once produced, characteristically contained a list of SWP members along with others considered on message. My own nomination, just like last year, was the only one not part of the official line-up. And again just like last year, quite a number of the proposed delegates were not present and a few were not even known to most comrades. But unlike last year, the attitude towards a CPGB nomination was not so hostile. I would like to think that this was because we have made some progress in convincing SWP members of our views and have won them at least to the notion of inclusive democracy. Unfortunately I think it was more to do with lethargy. There is a distinct lack of passion about the Respect project. This has also meant a dip in the level of vitriol and aggression. The slate of delegates was increased to 12. Obviously we had managed to achieve a slight increase in membership, though we were not given figures. Yet under pressure from the CPGB, conference standing orders were adhered to and an exhaustive ballot was held on delegates. A crude 'yes' or 'no' for a single slate was rejected. Instead we voted for individuals. Yes, the list proposed by the local SWP leadership still went through, but with three reserve delegates. My nomination got the support of the CPGB comrades present, some independents and one SWP member - making me second reserve. Given the fact that so many Hackney delegates did not turn up last year, this makes it quite likely that I will be one of the delegates at conference! But we must also remember the underhand shenanigans employed to keep reserves out last year if they were seen to be sympathetic to the CPGB (Weekly Worker November 4 2004). The decision on delegates was compressed into the final 15 minutes. Before that we had a discussion on climate change, which was opened up by Elaine Graham-Leigh, a former Green Party member and now on the national council of Respect. Her talk was more radical than I expected and focused on the need to make the environment a collective and working class question. She was very critical of 'individual lifestyle environmentalism' and argued that many Greens were in fact deeply reactionary. Instead we "need a mass movement to win a shift to renewable energy. There is no point in lobbying companies like BP. We have the technology today to produce everything through renewable energy sources." She believed that there is no contradiction in linking the struggle for trade union rights and environmental questions. Comrade Graham-Leigh also agreed with the CPGB's Tina Becker that it was impossible to "stop climate change", as the December 3 London demonstration is entitled. Not so SWP comrades, many of whom mocked the very idea that the climate is always in the process of change. Apparently it was apathetic to insist that this was the case. Closer consideration of the issue was obviously out of the question. Adopting a thinking approach is not for the SWP rank and file. Their role is to pass the right motions and show the necessary enthusiasm for the latest get-rich scheme to come from their central committee. Most of the SWP contributions on this issue amounted to little more than repetition of what they had been told to say. They showed a distinct unwillingness to think as materialists. They could only be against capitalism, could only focus on how to build the opposition. What they were for and why was far more vague and uncertain. Our contributions, which stressed the theoretical importance of Marx's writings on ecology, brought bewildered looks and confusion - with longstanding SWP member and Respect secretary Mike Simons chiming in that "we need idealism" in our struggle against climate change. Finally a long and tortured discussion followed about how to build for a local 'Galloway speaks' meeting on November 15. The lack of enthusiasm was evident once again, as the chair applied pressure for people to 'volunteer'. Stalls were finally cobbled together for the following Saturday. And if the one I attended in Dalston was anything to go by, they were hardly dynamic actions. I know from at least one SWP friend that members are voting with their feet. They are not turning up to meetings or doing stalls. Comrades will do anything - just anything - to avoid going to a Respect event. And with so few of their own meetings taking place, one wonders how much longer the SWP can last without a serious, organised rebellion.