Looking for pastures new
As the SWP leadership poses left in order to prepare the membership for a future without Respect, Peter Manson calls upon the rank and file to rebel from the left
Respect?s September 29 recall national council meeting confirmed that the organisation is to limp on in a public show of ?unity? into the general election campaign.
Once again, as at the bad-tempered meeting on September 22, the NC passed a unanimous resolution, this time in the form of a motion to be put to conference in November. Although simultaneously Respect has attempted to go into general election mode with the launch of a ?20,000 appeal (a pathetically low target), the main thrust of the NC?s conference motion - despite being entitled ?Building Respect for the future?1 - is to look beyond the ?unity coalition?, to some ?wider regroupment of left forces?.
Thus it welcomes the discussions arranged with the Morning Star?s Communist Party of Britain, deselected left Labour MP Bob Wareing and the RMT union, and commits the leadership to ?urgently seek further discussions with those sections of the left currently outside of Respect?.
This is not, of course, directed at the Socialist Party, CPGB, etc, with the aim of some resurrected Socialist Alliance, but at ?the John McDonnell campaign, the Labour left and the CPB?. In the May 2008 Greater London Authority elections Respect is to ?offer the best possible conditions to the RMT for a joint slate, which would also be a step forward towards a wider collaboration?, and aim for a conference ?jointly organised? with all those forces to discuss ?a solution to the crisis of labour representation?.
Both the Socialist Workers Party and George Galloway have definitively concluded that Respect cannot be the vehicle for their respective ambitions beyond the short term. At the previous week?s NC Galloway said he would not only resign from the leadership, but would withdraw his nomination as Respect prospective parliamentary candidate for Poplar and Limehouse.
However, according to the latest SWP Party notes, ?Despite saying that he had quit the Respect NC, George Galloway did attend and said that he was considering standing at the next general election.? Two days later, ?reflecting on the unanimous vote? of the September 29 NC, which urged him ?to reconsider my decision of seven days previously to withdraw from the selection process for the Poplar and Limehouse seat?, Galloway announced he had decided to ?let my name go forward?. Not only was the NC vote ?very encouraging?, but ?many members and supporters from Tower Hamlets and nationally had prevailed upon me also to reconsider? (letter, October 2).
So is this a case of ?Respect - peace breaks out?, as Liam Mac Uaid naively asserts on his blog?2 Hardly. ?Sadly George Galloway and another Respect NC member continued to snipe at the SWP in the meeting ? The united position that came out of the Respect NC is welcome. But it is clear that the political tensions are still there? (Party notes).
As we remarked last week, the rival factions had no option but to call a temporary truce, in view of what Gordon Brown might decide within the next few days - and this sense of urgency was again present at last weekend?s NC. As Party notes states, no doubt accurately, ?because minds were seriously focused on the possibility of a snap general election, the meeting was constructive?.
Mind you, ?official optimism? is still the order of the day for those poor, ignorant Socialist Worker readers. Last week editor Chris Bambery treated them to a ?Crisis? What crisis??snippet, implying that the NC was totally united and only concerned about ?campaign priorities and making moves to strengthen the party?.3 This week ?Respect launches fundraising drive for snap election? is the comforting story.4
However, the SWP is at present going all out to prepare its activists for life after Respect. Following a series of membership aggregates across the country, a party council meeting, consisting of just over 200 delegates, was held on September 30 in London. As Nick Bird reports, although a minority of members are unhappy at the sudden change of line in turning against Galloway and the (mainly muslim) businessmen and ?community leaders? that the SWP previously went out of its way to woo, the overwhelming majority seem intent, as usual, on remaining loyal to the leadership and following the latest twist.
Party notes reports that the September 30 council was a ?serious meeting?, where a ?wide-ranging debate took place and those who disagreed were encouraged to contribute.? However, ?only two out of 206 comrades? voted against endorsing the two documents from the leadership previously circulated - the first from the central committee5 and the second in the names of John Rees and Elaine Graham Leigh.6
It goes without saying that the line propagated in the two documents - anti-Galloway, anti-Salma Yaqoob - does not exactly sit easily alongside the SWP?s public call for an enthusiastic election campaign under the Respect banner.
Not for the first time, the SWP has used Alan Thornett and his International Socialist Group to front a new turn. That was the role the ISG fulfilled in the initial moves to close down the Socialist Alliance in 2003-04 in favour of something bigger and ?broader? (ie, more rightwing) - something that turned out to be Respect.
Now, ironically, when the SWP wants to pose to the left, it has picked up the ISG?s proposals for Respect, lock, stock and barrel. It was Thornett and his ISG comrade John Lister who proposed the successful resolution that was unanimously passed on September 29. But SWP leader John Rees insisted on seconding it.
Not only does the NC resolution emphasise a greater orientation to the Labour and trade union left (and therefore by implication away from the businessmen and ?community leaders?). It also calls for Respect to go into the election campaign with ?clear working class politics?. Of course, the resolution does not spell out what this means, except to say that ?the ethos of Respect, as expressed in its acronym, ?Respect, Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environment, Community, Trade Unionism?, has to be the framework of its work, its activities and its policies?.
But the resolution was a useful one for SWP purposes in allowing it to pose as the champion of working class principle - as opposed to that self-seeker, George Galloway, and his ?communalist? ally, Salma Yaqoob. It mattered not a jot that the resolution also included two other ISG favourites - a commitment ?in principle to produce a newspaper or a magazine? (some time in 2008) and to transform the NC into a ?body with delegates from branches? (after the 2008 conference). Similarly the slate system for electing the leadership is to be dropped from the 2008 conference.
Since the SWP does not expect Respect to exist in its current form for too much longer, it can agree to virtually anything relating to future internal organisation. The reality is that the newspaper will almost certainly not happen and there may not even be a 2008 conference.
Labour mark two
Both the SWP and Galloway are now convinced that Respect is going nowhere. No serious Labour politician is going to embrace it and no trade union leader is going to encourage their members to join. Both are happy to look for another vehicle, especially as there are signs that some new left-of-Labour formation, backed by unions like the RMT, a few Labour lefts and the CPB, could be in the offing.
The idea that the Labour Party can no longer be ?reclaimed? is rapidly gaining ground following last week?s Bournemouth conference. This has led John McDonnell to conclude: ?? it is time for the left to take a hard-nosed look at where we go from here?.7 Comrade McDonnell states: ?The left has the difficult task of accepting and explaining to others that the old routes into the exercise of power and influence involving internal Labour Party mobilisations and manoeuvres have largely been closed down. We have to face up to the challenge of identifying and developing new routes into effective political activity.?
The fact that McDonnell is looking to those elusive ?new social movements?, not a new working class party, as the main answer may not prove too great a barrier to supporting an attempt to set up a new formation. And other diehard Labour loyalists are also having a rethink after Bournemouth. In last week?s Weekly Worker Graham Bash of Labour Briefing was echoing the thoughts of many on the Labour left when he talked about the possible ?decisive moment in the degeneration of the Labour Party? and the need for ?a real, broad-based party of labour?.8
The Morning Star?s CPB is likewise edging towards similar conclusions. According to its part-time general secretary, Rob Griffiths, ?The trade unions and the people of Britain need a mass party of labour. If, as in the US, we all agreed that we do not have one, we would be united in trying to create one. Opting out of the struggle to reclaim or re-establish a mass political party of the labour movement offers no solution.?9
In this climate Bob Crow?s talk about winning the RMT to back a slate of anti-privatisation candidates in the GLA elections may not only be translated into reality, but could prove a springboard for attempting to establish a Labour Party mark two. Up to now it has just been the Socialist Party in England and Wales that has been egging Crow on, but it could be that the SWP will also look positively on such a development.
For us, this will bring possibilities. However, there is the danger that it would prove to be yet another dead end. Yes, it might gain the support of a handful of left union leaders - Mark Serwotka of the PCS and Matt Wrack of the FBU spring to mind - but the idea that any of the big battalions would lead their members out of Brown?s party or that any more than a few dozen Labour lefts would come over is pure illusion.
Such an attempt to recreate ?real Labour? might well also reproduce all the bureaucracy of the genuine article - only on a much lower level. How else could Crow and co keep control out of the hands of the likes of the SWP and SPEW activists apart from the use of block votes, proscriptions or other such anti-democratic devices? Galloway?s problem in Respect is that he has no such means of control - all he can do is threaten to walk if he does not get his way. Allying himself with Crow might have some appeal.
Should such a formation be brought into existence, irrespective of its bureaucratic defects, we in the CPGB would most certainly join and support it critically. We would, however, unlike the SWP and SPEW, never cease to campaign within it for the kind of party that is needed - not a Labourite halfway house, but a party of Marxism and extreme democracy.
That too is the fight that needs to be conducted in the SWP. All the more the pity, then, that comrade Nick Bird, a longstanding internal critic of the SWP?s control-freakery and lack of openness, has simply turned on his heels and abandoned that fight. Indeed, like many of those opposed to the Rees-German leadership, he seems to have positioned himself to their right. Respect is not so bad, Galloway?s faults have been exaggerated, etc, etc.
It is all very well identifying the leadership?s opportunistic short-termism and anti-democratic practices, but unless this is accompanied by the development of a critique based on Marxism and revolutionary democracy it can only end in demoralisation and further splintering.
Where is the SWP?s principled left opposition? The opposition that detests their leaders? abandonment of one working class principle after another in Respect? A woman?s right to choose an abortion, open borders, secularism, working class socialism itself - all were junked in the name of reaching out to those influenced by the mosque, the muslim establishment and the businessmen and ?community leaders? that Rees and co now claim to despise.
The rank and file must hold their leaders to account. They must not blindly follow the next opportunistic turn, comforting themselves that at last the political committee seems to be moving left again. The SWP left opposition must organise and rebel.