[Marxism] Re: Respect conference

Nigel Irritable nigel_irritable at yahoo.com
Fri Nov 25 12:59:15 MST 2005

There have been a number of posts here recently about
the latest conference of the Respect Coalition in
Britain. Most of the posts have been to some degree or
other informative although the sound of various axes
grinding has at times been deafening. Here are a few
thoughts about Respect, its conference and some other
issues which have come up in the discussion:

1) Respect has had some real, if limited, successes.
It has managed to assemble a significant vote, which
although limited to a handful of areas, is still
something of an accomplishment. It managed to keep
George Galloway in parliament, and for all the
criticisms I have of the man and his ideas, I would
rather have him there than another Blairite clone. It
is an attempt, however clumsy, to reach out to
Britain's Muslim population. It represents a clear
break with New Labour. It's important to acknowledge
these positive points if any discussion of the
organisation is to be fair.

2) In organisational terms it has not made any
breakthrough. Its membership has remains static at
4,000 on paper with much less active. That's actually
quite surprising given the amount of activity and
publicity which has surrounded Respect. It has no
national branch structure. Even in those few areas
where it has made an electoral impact (ie parts of
East London, Birmingham, Preston) it doesn't seem to
have developed a large organisation on the ground. 

Respect remains very much a three way deal. The SWP
provide the footsoldiers and whatever organisational
structure there is. Galloway provides the profile and
some of the votes. A small number of Muslim "community
leaders" provide the rest of the electoral base.

3) There has been some talk of how most people on the
left hate Respect from Jack and some from Einde about
how the Socialist Party is the only significant left
force outside of Respect. Neither statement really
gives an accurate picture. 

The British far left contains two fairly sizeable
organisations in the forms of the Socialist Workers
Party (the main component of Respect) and the
Socialist Party (which is not involved in Respect).
Significantly smaller than these two but still of a
size worth noticing is the Communist Party of Britain,
which is also outside of Respect. Of the incredible
number of smaller groups and grouplets ranging from
maybe 150 members down to a handful, two are in
Respect while the dozens of others are not.

On what might be considered the broader left there are
two main bodies to consider, the Labour left and the
Green Party. The Labour left is a strange beast, once
numbering tens of thousands of activists it is now
nearly gone. The Green Party has a somewhat fraught
relationship with Respect. This is at least in part,
as leninology harshly but fairly noted, down to a fear
that Respect will encroach on its electoral territory.

4) Einde described the Socialist Party as "hostile"
towards Respect. I realise that this was a shorthand
but it is a misleading description of the SP's
attitude. The Socialist Party has generally called for
a vote for Respect's candidates, it stood at least one
joint candidate with it, it tried to get involved in
the initial discussions around the creation of the
coalition (and was excluded) and it has raised its
criticisms of the Respect project in a fraternal way.
It has not, for instance, engaged in the personalised
baiting of Galloway or the islamophobia which some of
the more sectarian left groups have gone in for.

The Socialist Party's main criticisms of Respect are
important however and are essentially that: Right from
the start it has lacked any democratic structure or
culture. It has made quite unnecessary concessions on
policy and programme. It views the working class as
one constituency amongst many rather than centrally
addressing the issue of working class representation
and organisation. Its attempt to build support amongst
Muslims is welcome, but the methods it uses (religious
appeals and attempts to mobilise a block vote through
existing "community leaders") are dangerous.

5) Those problems make it less likely that Respect
will make a big breakthrough outside of its core
areas. Its lack of organisational growth despite its
high profile year adds weight to the view that it
isn't likely to prove attractive to wider sections of
the working class. That said, it can't and shouldn't
be ruled out. There is a huge gap to the left of
Labour to aim for after all.

6) The Socialist Party has recently taken the
initiative in setting up a campaign for a new workers
party. This campaign was launched a couple of weeks
ago with a statement signed by twenty something
members of union national executives and local
councillors. The intent is to link in with a
forthcoming conference called by the RMT rail union to
discuss working class political representation and
move on from there. I will post up the declaration in
a minute.

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