[Marxism] The SWP, Respect and the united front.

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at gmail.com
Sun Nov 4 20:30:47 MST 2007

Mike Pearn say that my comment that Respect was "a possible first step on
the  road to the rebirth of a workers party in British politics" shows my
"total lack of understanding as to the class nature of the forces actually
in respect," and so on.

Mike adds that "Respect was the product of the movement of some sections of
British Muslims - as a 'community' not as workers - away from passive
electoral support of what was a Workers Party and of the move to the right
of the SWP."

I'm glad Mike raises this, because I think it needs to be said that the
hostility of some leftists to Respect, even when born of ultraleft
sectarianism, also needs to be examined from the angle of whether it
represents an adaptation to English imperialist chauvinism.

This is a very old problem in the English labor movement. See, for example,
the minutes of the May 14, 1872 meeting of the General Council of the First
International, which are here:

The minutes report:

"Citizen Hales proposed "That in the opinion of the Council the formation of
Irish nationalist branches in England is opposed to the General Rules and
principles of the Association." He said he brought forward the motion in no
antagonism to the Irish members, but he thought the policy being pursued
(is) fraught with the greatest danger to the Association, besides being in
antagonism to the Rules and principles. The fundamental principle of the
Association was to destroy all semblance of the nationalist doctrine, and
remove all barriers that separated man from man, and the formation of either
Irish or English branches could only retard the movement instead of helping
it on....

"No one knew what the Irish branches were doing, and in their rules they
stated that they were republican, and their first object was to liberate
Ireland from a foreign domination. Now he contended that the International
had nothing to do with liberating Ireland, nor with the setting up of any
particular form of government, either in England or Ireland, and it was the
duty of the Council to prevent any mistake upon the subject by passing the
resolution he proposed. If such was not done they would have splits which
perhaps could not be healed.

Among those answering Hale was an especially righteous co-author of the
Communist Manifesto: 

"Citizen Engels said the real purpose of the motion, stripped of all
hypocrisy, was to bring the Irish sections into subjection to the British
Federal Council, a thing to which the Irish sections would never consent....

"The Irish formed a distinct nationality of their own, and the fact that
(they) used the English language could not deprive them of their rights.
Citizen Hales had spoken of the relations of England and Ireland being of
the most idyllic nature - breathing nothing but harmony. But the case was
quite different. There was the fact of seven centuries of English conquest
and oppression of Ireland, and so long as that oppression existed, it would
be an insult to Irish working men to ask them to submit to a British Federal

"The position of Ireland with regard to England was not that of an equal....
It was asking the conquered people to forget their nationality and submit to
their conquerors. It was not Internationalism, but simply prating

"If the promoters of the motion were so brimful of the truly international
spirit, let them prove it by removing the seat of the British Federal
Council to Dublin and submit to a Council of Irishmen. 

"In a case like that of the Irish, true Internationalism must necessarily be
based upon a distinct national organisation, and they were under the
necessity to state in the preamble to their rules that their first and most
pressing duty as Irishmen was to establish their own national independence."

[A fuller recounting of Engels's rebuttal to Hale, drawn up by Engels
himself, is here:

*  *  *

This is essentially the same debate as has taken place in the United States
around the "Black and white unite and fight" line. And as can be seen,
Engels was a supporter of the Malcolm X position: Before there can be
Black-white unity, there has to be some Black unity first.

This theme that keeps coming up that there is a problem with communalism,
with Muslims communities organizing as such, that this is in contradiction
to the class struggle, strike me as being quite dangerous under
circumstances where precisely these communities are under escalating attack
by British imperialism.


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