[Marxism] A comment on Callinicos's letter to the IST

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Nov 6 09:19:44 MST 2007

(Posted as a comment by "Larry" to the Socialist Unity blog, where 
Callinicos's letter appeared.)

Callinicos’s letter to the IST clarifies some important things for me:

He says: 1) there has been a ‘crisis, that has developed, suddenly and 
brutally, within Respect’ and 2) ‘There is no doubt that the crisis in 
Respect is a major reverse for the process of left realignment in 
Britain. Nevertheless, the SWP remains strongly committed to this 
process, both in Britain and on an international scale’.

This confirms to me that the SWP CC has indeed therefore committed huge 
tactical blunders in the past two months, leading to the loss of their 
only MP and all their major Trades Union and Muslim community allies.

Callinocos’s admission that the crisis has ‘developed, suddenly and 
brutally’ shows that the denunciations made elsewhere by the CC of 
Galloway moving to the right etc are nonsense. He has not changed 
recently – he is still the maverick celebrity anti-imperialist Catholic 
Stalinist (etc) he always was, for both good and ill.

Respect undoubtedly had problems. The political radicalisation creating 
a left of labour space in the UK had unfolded unevenly. It was most 
intense amongst the Muslim working class and petty-bourgeoisie, because 
this radicalisation had been catalysed primarily by the war. This lead 
to the chance of an electoral breakthrough first in Muslim areas. But 
class polarisation had not fully developed within these communities, 
leading to sections of the Muslim community enlisted to Respect en-bloc, 
and lead by petty-bourgeois radical elements who are now the majority of 
its councillors.

At its best, the SWP usually admits to problems like these, but says 
that they are not the main problem of the moment, but should be 
corrected later. Thus they may have been right to make tactical 
compromises to launch Respect, but could later alter course, with a 
slight change of tack.

But this has not happened. Instead of changing tack, they have thrown 
their toys out of the pram – had a massive binge and lost all their 
important and hard one allies. They have not had a nuanced hand on the 
tiller, but have in effect sunk the whole project.

However, the only way they could have avoided this was to have made more 
compromises after the August Galloway letter. They would have had to 
change both themselves and Respect to continue and expand the project. 
Respect would have had to become a proper party with its own culture, 
rather than a ‘United Front of a Special Kind’. And the SWP would have 
had to have become a current within it. The SWP would no longer be able 
to lead Respect via its bureaucratic ‘Full-Timer’ apparatus, but instead 
more through political arguments and leadership.

But the SWP could not afford to make this change, for obvious reasons. 
Perhaps it had not fully understood the implications of the turn to 
building broad parties as a long term counter-hegemonic project. Instead 
it clung to the main elements of its old routine and regime that had 
sustained it at least since the ‘downturn’ perspective of the 1980’s. 
This internal regime of command and control may work for its own members 
signed up to its particular view of ‘democratic centralism’. But it 
would not work with the wider forces that Respect was intended to involve.

Thus when it came to the Galloway letter they were initially torn in two 
directions. One towards compromise and the changes outlined above, with 
Rees seconding the Thornett motion to the NC. Yet another response soon 
took over. This was to treat the Galloway letter as a declaration of 
war, and to mobilise their members in an all out battle to dominate 
conference. Once this latter strategy was embarked upon, all was lost 
for Respect. The SWP could not win hegemony through the brute force of 
its numerical superiority. So inevitably, all its major allies would 
split, now leaving it in a conference all on its own.

The SWP CC could only really justify itself to its members if it said 
that it was abandoning the process of left realignment and of building 
broad anti-neoliberal formations. It could point to the inevitable 
contradictions of this strategy that could destroy the revolutionary 
‘party’, and argue it can only continue as an a fully autonomous unit 
but building ‘normal’ united fronts. But instead, here Callinicos says: 
“the SWP remains strongly committed to this process, both in Britain and 
on an international scale”. So they have just committed the most 
enormous blunder in pursuing this process. Draw you own conclusions.

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