United democratic opposition needed

Principled communists and socialists should start working together in order to combat accustions of islamophobia and treachery, says Anne Mc Shane

The International Socialist Group held a packed fringe meeting after the close of the Respect conference on Saturday in the Dolphin pub opposite the Camden Centre. Naturally, debate centred on the way forward.

In his opening remarks, Alan Thornett - the ISG’s leading figure - argued that Respect has not achieved the success promised by John Rees and the Socialist Workers Party leadership. In fact things have gone backwards in certain respects. This was put down to a lack of democratic and accountable structures.

He has a point. Proceedings the following day at conference showed that delegates - those not attached to one of Respect’s three main groups - were increasingly frustrated at the failure of Respect to become a properly functioning and fully democratic party: ie, with its own paper, forums of debate and a national committee that regularly reports and is open to inspection. And that frustration was only added to when John Rees magisterially announced his refusal to budge on basic questions of accountability. Comrade Rees even warned conference delegates that they would have to find themselves a new secretary if unwelcome motions were passed. What puffed-up arrogance.

A democratic and independently functioning Respect is of course anathema to the SWP leadership. It does not want Respect to replace the SWP. Nor does it want to sacrifice control over Socialist Worker. The Rees-German-Bambery ruling group certainly shows not the slightest sign of doing a Scottish turn - ie, following the lead of Scottish Militant Labour when it handed over its press and cadre resources to the Scottish Socialist Party. And, given the lamentable lack of democracy within the SWP, it is hardly any wonder that comrade Rees so evidently found the whole debate on accountability threatening.

Therefore it is vital that democratic forces in Respect forge some sort of working unity. And while, of course, there are important differences between the CPGB and the ISG, we surely can create a pole of attraction in opposition to the slate-elected leadership clique. If we fail, Respect will continue to be a revolving door and continue to haemorrhage critical branch delegates after each and every conference.

Non-aligned Respect members cannot do it by themselves. They lack the resources and the necessary organisation. But a rapprochement between the ISG and the CPGB could provide the focal point. Both are disciplined, experienced and possess the means with which to draw in much wider forces - the ISG having a well produced monthly and the CPGB the widely read Weekly Worker, of course.

During conference we were allies on a whole range of issues - although the ISG refused to vote with us on open borders and immigration controls and on the accountability of elected representatives. Nevertheless, the comrades were both more friendly and more combative than last year.

There are those ISGers who still believe that by using inside influence they can bring the SWP around to their way of thinking. But that approach can now clearly be seen to be a failure - part of the problem, not the solution. Rank and file Respect members are looking for a bold lead that can put Respect onto firm political foundations. Playing court adviser to George Galloway and the SWP leadership only invites contempt.

After its abysmal treatment at the hands of John Rees, Lindsey German and George Galloway, the ISG must surely wake up to the fact that all - even the mildest - open criticism brings not influence, but dishonest and despicable accusations of treachery and islamophobia.

Later, on the same Saturday evening, the CPGB also held a fringe meeting, albeit much smaller than the ISG’s. Our discussions linked the populist politics of Respect to the type of organisation that has inevitably resulted. The answer has to lie in a comprehensive challenge to the popular front politics of Respect.

These popular front politics routinely see the so-called revolutionaries of the SWP dismissing their own ‘principles’ as electorally inexpedient and acting as attorneys for Galloway’s brand of combined Stalinism, catholicism, third worldism and left reformism. A shameful sight.