Now it must be counted amongst the living dead
Respect's national council solves nothing. The rot cannot be hidden, says Peter Manson
The threat of an immediate split has for the moment receded. However, Respect is morally, politically and strategically doomed. It has no future. After the meeting of September 22 it must be counted amongst the living dead, along with Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Campaign for a New Workers' Party and similar political formations.
Both the Socialist Workers Party and the faction that has coalesced around George Galloway in effect agreed on a temporary truce at the highly charged and fractious meeting of the party's national council. Nevertheless, the compromise statement unanimously agreed by the best attended NC ever should be regarded as a points win for Galloway. It was his motion that was adopted. Though the SWP did manage to get him to accept one of several amendments submitted by John Rees and Michael Lavalette.
This is the final point in the agreed motion: "All elected representatives of Respect should give regular reports to the local Respect branch and the national council of Respect. All major initiatives should be discussed with the appropriate local and national committees of Respect."1
This was pointedly aimed at Galloway himself, as well as the businessmen elected as Respect representatives on Tower Hamlets council. He could hardly refuse to "give regular reports" to the NC or discuss "major initiatives" with it. But that does not make him accountable, does it? He is not obliged to tell his party in advance about what he plans to do. Nor is he bound by the NC's recommendations and decisions.
The same goes for the businessmen's wing of Tower Hamlets Respect. The majority of councillors who rarely or never turn up to branch meetings still do not have to do so. If they email occasional vacuous "reports" about their activities, that will comply with the letter of this clause - and what they choose to include will obviously be up to them.
So, apart from this token SWP insertion, Galloway got most of what he wanted, including "a positive and collaborative approach to wider developments on the left". In reality that was an open door. The SWP knows that Respect has no meaningful reach within the labour movement. Hence, dumped Labour MP Bob Wareing has already been approached to speak on a Respect platform and comrade Rees is to meet with Communist Party of Britain general secretary Rob Griffiths next week. Bob Crow of the RMT is also to be contacted to see if an arrangement can be made should the plan for union-sponsored candidates materialise in time for next May's Greater London Authority elections.
The officers have already discussed that part of Galloway's motion which was inserted at Salma Yaqoob's behest - "the varying of the date and venue of meetings to maximise participation, and the use of new technologies". Two days after the NC the officers group agreed to acquire a web-cam so that those unable to attend can join in the discussion. The SWP had criticised Yaqoob for her failure to attend a single meeting of the body to which she had been elected and the "new technologies" ploy was her way of hitting back.
The party is also to "overhaul our procedures for recruiting to paid posts" and "immediately establish a commission to draw up democratic and inclusive alternatives to the slate system for elections" (another demand of Yaqoob's). Lindsey German (SWP) and Alan Thornett (International Socialist Group) have since been charged by the officers' group with coming up with new proposals in time for the recall NC on September 29.
However, Galloway has not yet achieved any of the three principal demands he has been making. Obviously comrade Rees has not been replaced - although this was not included in his original document and Yaqoob has stated that she did not actually call for him to go: she just suggested that he ought to seriously consider it.
Galloway's demand for a "new, high-powered elections committee"2 was not included in his motion to the NC. It seems he was persuaded beforehand that the idea of two rival committees - one elected, the other not, and both formally charged with the same tasks - would not be a good idea.
However, he retained his call for the appointment of a national organiser to take over some of Rees's responsibilities, but the SWP leader calmly pointed out at the NC that anybody appointed would have to work under the instructions of the elected officers. Galloway had no answer to that one and he was forced to withdraw the demand from his motion. But the SWP graciously agreed to the establishment of a sub-committee to look into the whole question with a view to appointing a national organiser - eventually.
The only other change to the motion came in the form of a friendly amendment, fleshing out Galloway's call for a membership and fundraising drive, which is now to be launched "from the national conference" in mid-November. A bit late if Gordon Brown calls a snap election for next month. As part of this drive Galloway is to go on a speaking tour addressing a series of recruitment rallies. Nothing new there then.
All this haggling came after the main protagonists had spoken to their various documents - "heated" is a polite way of describing the ensuing exchanges. No wonder there was no time to deal with the rest of the business, not least conference motions, which is one of the reasons why a recall meeting had to be arranged for next week.
So Galloway has pulled out his most powerful card - the threat to walk, leaving Respect high and dry. It was a card that had to be played now, while he is still an MP. If a general election is called, it is by no means certain that he will defeat Jim Fitzpatrick in Poplar and Limehouse and as an ex-MP he would soon lose his power as a public figurehead.
However, the NC statement clearly does not signal the end of the crisis, since it represents, for the most part, organisational and technical tinkering only. And when it comes to the new political initiatives, they can hardly be said to embrace solutions to either re-invigorate Respect or generate another broader project.
An 'RMT party', while it is certainly something to get the Socialist Party in England and Wales all in a lather, does not exactly have 'success' written all over it. And a lash-up with the CPB - how will that lead to the big time?
But from Galloway's point of view Respect has failed to live up to his great expectations. It is totally unable to fill the vacuum created by Labour's continuing rightward lurches and the blame for this is placed squarely on the doorstep of the SWP, which has refused to throw all its resources into the formation of a fully fledged party, not an on-off front. But unfortunately for Galloway, unless he can find a new army of foot soldiers, he is saddled with the SWP for better or worse.
The SWP, for its part, had no option but to move in the direction of Galloway's demands. What if he really did pack his bags - either to seek out another political project or to concentrate on his media career? Where would that leave the SWP's attempts to get Lindsey German elected to the GLA? So, for the time being, Galloway and the SWP remain stuck together. They cannot work without each other. But nor can they work with each other. Hence the paralysis.
The SWP's criticisms of Galloway, Yaqoob and the Tower Hamlets "community leaders" have been too hard-hitting to allow for any permanent rapprochement. Stung by the criticisms of its abandonment of principle in the Respect popular front - criticisms which originated with this paper and eventually started to be repeated by its rank and file - the SWP is most definitely looking to find a way of breaking with Respect's businessmen's wing.
Rees and the SWP's close ally on the NC, Elaine Graham Leigh, say: "We believe that the constant adaptation to what are referred to as 'community leaders' in Tower Hamlets is lowering the level of politics and making us vulnerable to the attacks and pressures brought on us by New Labour. It is alienating us not only from the white working class, but also from the more radical sections of the Bengali community, both secular and muslim, who feel that Respect is becoming the party of a narrow and conservative trend in the area."3
However, it is those very "conservative" businessmen and "community leaders" to whom Galloway must look if he is to win in Poplar and Limehouse, just as it was their support that was the key to his victory in Bethnal Green and Bow.
For the SWP leadership, though, the pressure from the rank and file is making itself felt. It needs to stress much more its orientation to the working class and socialism, including within Respect. But ironically that is not to the liking of other 'socialists'. For example, Andy Newman, who is so delighted with Galloway and Yaqoob flexing their muscles against the SWP that he has rejoined Respect, actually thinks its working class component should remain "subordinated", to use the expression of the SWP central committee.4
Newman, after noting that John Lister of Socialist Resistance called for Respect to be "much more openly socialist" at a meeting in Oxford on September 25, adds: "John Rees was quick to agree to this sentiment, and I think there may be a danger in this approach from Socialist Resistance, in narrowing down the opportunities presented by Respect."5 Newman is looking even further right in his search for 'broadness' than Respect - he advocates linking up with the Greens for a starter, but surely that would still be too 'narrow'.
Just as the SWP has not pulled its punches in relation to Yaqoob and Galloway (and this is before the contents of its so-called an "information pack" on the MP have come to light - see p3), so they have returned the accusations with interest. For example, Yaqoob, in response to the SWP's absurd allegations of "communalism" directed against her, states: ""¦ these claims, and others, are designed entirely to marshal SWP members with pseudo-ideological cover in what is really a drive for control".6
As Yaqoob says, all this has "poisoned relations" - irredeemably.
But none of this ought to be surprising. Respect, by its very nature as an unstable cross-class alliance, could not last. It contains too many competing, mutually antagonistic interests. That is why nobody should take seriously the 'Crisis? What crisis?' smokescreen cast by Socialist Worker editor Chris Bambery.7