Riding through the glen

Well, having covered the Respect row already, I may as well do the Kent Brockman and put in my two cents. What I’ll say in the first instance is that, had I been running the SWP, I wouldn’t have started from here. I wasn’t keen on the setting up of Respect, and I certainly wasn’t keen on having George as the leader – surely anybody with an ounce should have known what a loose cannon he was. Moreover, I would have been much less jaundiced about Respect if it had emerged without the SWP acting as midwives – I don’t think it’s the job of Marxists to set up that sort of organisation.

Nonetheless, Respect exists, for the time being at least, and has about enough substance to be of interest. As I see it, there are two possible good scenarios issuing from this dispute, although I don’t think either of them is terribly likely. The first is that the SWP decides to give up Respect for a bad job and strikes out as a tough Marxist propaganda group, preferably leaving John and Lindsey behind it. I think this is unlikely because the SWP has invested so much in the Respect turn, because the membership is in no condition to make an abrupt reverse turn, and because of my estimation of the CC. In any case, a Respect minus the SWP would still pose major problems for an SWP on the outside.

The other possible good scenario is that the anti-SWP combo wins this fight, Respect gains a bit of momentum behind it and a bit of social weight, and becomes transformed into a serious party, something radically different from Respect as we know it. This would involve the adoption of something like Salma Yaqoob’s strategy document, the best contribution I’ve seen so far from anybody in this dispute, and sticking to it. On the other hand, there are obvious problems. One is that a defeated SWP would have to act as a loyal and disciplined minority, something they have no experience of doing – their recent history of playing silly buggers in the SSP is instructive. Another is that, no matter what arguments Salma Yaqoob and Alan Thornett may make for a new regime of democracy and accountability, the SWP leadership don’t allow those things in their own organisation, while George is mostly interested in a regime that allows him to do very much what he wants. It would be a tricky thing to pull off, to put it mildly.

In reality, things are likely to be much messier. George of course has been extremely canny and has picked this fight with care – attacking the SWP, and in particular the unpopular Rees, on organisational grounds makes perfect sense. The disorientation this has caused in the CC is wondrous to behold, and their response has been almost totally apolitical, apart from some vague grumbling about George “moving to the right” and noises about “communalism”, which leaves them open to being denounced for Islamophobia (and after the way they’ve thrown that accusation around in recent years, it would serve them right). They have also been daft enough to characterise an attack on Rees as an attack on the party, and to mount a defence of his personality rather than trying to argue a political line. Any tactical sense they have is trumped by the consideration of Rees’ personal prestige and his standing in the SWP pecking order.

So that’s just a broad outline of how I see things at the moment. How things pan out will be dependent on a number of factors, most notably who can best mobilise for the conference.

Just a further remark on the Conrad Party of Great Britain. I find it difficult to explain Mark Fischer’s performance on Newsnight, unless he is either a totally boneheaded sectarian – actually, he’s probably not that bad – or he’s actively trying to get himself and his group thrown out of Respect. But I want to cast a quick glance at Manson’s latest great work of fiction in the Weekly World Worker News. I have to say that Manson’s coverage of the SWP hasn’t improved from the days when he was writing as “SW Kenning” – although a genius at tracking down bits of gossip and stray internal documents, he has frig all understanding of the SWP’s politics, culture and internal dynamics. But he retains a serious gift for embroidery:

Respect’s demise is absolutely certain. The SWP is desperately looking for a way out. Meanwhile, Galloway is attempting to mobilise every ally he can. Barrels are being scraped. The November 17-18 annual conference will almost certainly be akin to high noon. However, the opening salvoes will be exchanged at this weekend’s national council meeting.

Move over, Cormac McCarthy. And clock this:

In the meantime the SWP is in the business of preparing for an orderly retreat from the debacle of Respect. It must cohere its membership against those who have lashed it from the left. Crucially the CPGB and the Weekly Worker. That necessitates instilling collective amnesia among the rank and file.

I haven’t seen the CC agenda recently, but I can’t imagine “cohering our membership against the devastating critiques of Peter Manson” figuring near the top of the page. But here Manson reveals more about his own group than the SWP: the raison d’être of the Weekly Worker current in this scenario is to strike a principled-sounding pose that might aid them in poaching two or three disgruntled SWP members. Hence the dopey demand Manson concludes with, that the SWP membership should rise up and expel the “popular frontists” on the CC. If any SWPer is gormless enough to start banging that drum, then frankly the Weekly Worker is welcome to him.

8 Comments

  1. Andy Newman said,

    September 24, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    I largely agree with this.

    General messiness is the most likely outcome, but just how messy, and to what degree something coherent emerges from the Salama Yaqoob wing of respect (who after all has a genuine base independent of the SWP) is up to play for.

    Also, as someone who has no particular love for the SWP’s CC, I would still much prefer that organisation not to tear itelf up over this, and some tactical nous from the SWP’s opponents in respect is also necessary to allow them room to retreat.

    Actually I suspect that the opponents of the whole project (and we don’t need to be a Kremlinologist of peter manson’s stature to imagine that these might include Chris Bambury, Chris harman and Martin Smith) are already holding all the cards within the SWP (the paper, the ISJ and the full timer organisation), and I suspect that their intransigence over defending John Rees may also be factional/tactical. One could speculate that this means if they the SWP leave respect they would have damaged the repuations of those in the leadership most associated with the resepct project.

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    September 24, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    I suspect that some kind of deal will be struck, but the SWP staying in would depend on them accepting a lesser role in Respect. In or out, as you say it’s damaging to those most identified with Respect.

    It may be worth watching to see if anybody makes an overture to Chicago.

  3. Andy Newman said,

    September 24, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    That would be the obvious move, and the political position of those who would be happy to leave Respect is similar to Shawi and Co, and I have mused before that it would be a quick win for the CC trying to demonstrate to a weary membership that they were “under new management”.

    But there may be personality issues involves, and also to be honest I have been told by two seperate sources that underlying the split twixt London and Chicago there was a raw disagreement about money. A very large legacy from an ISO member who has lived in London, that all went to the SWP, who then refused to share it.

    That is why out of the blue the ISO suddenly started asking aqward questions what happened to the money raised internationally for South Afrcia in the past and so on.

  4. splinteredsunrise said,

    September 24, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    Quite, and I do know from people on both sides that there are serious personality issues involved – although some of those tensions went back long before the split.

    But the ISO have been careful over recent years not to get stuck into the SWP, despite having plenty of opportunities. Actually I think they’ve been far too reticent, considering that they could have some influence on the SWP cadre if they played their cards right.

  5. WorldbyStorm said,

    September 24, 2007 at 8:23 pm

    I’d agree that Option C, the messy one, is most likely with the whole ramshackle show staggering on further along the road. To my mind Respect is so contradictory and enterprise that it’s remarkable, and perhaps a testament to the sincerity and energy of at least some involved, that it has survived this long.

  6. Ed Hayes said,

    September 25, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    Your mention of the ISO brings me back a bit. I remember when the Yanks had most favoured nation trading status with the SWP leadership. Around 1988 the SWM were in dire trouble because KA (Swiss Toni to yourself) had decided that there shouldn’t be unconditional suppport for Iran in the Iran/Iraq war (as someone said in the Dublin branch, ‘the Iranians will be very disappointed to hear that.’)At the international meeting in London, which used to take place every year after Marxism Kieran got a right hammering from Cliff, Callincos, Harman etc. At one stage Cliff called the poor old Drumcondra muinteoir a ‘Contra.’ However right in there with them was Shawki and at that time nothing the Yanks could do was wrong. People told me that the CC couldn’t praise the American SW enough. Then again most of it was just articles reprinted from the British SW and SW Review. I found them a funny bunch and a bit full of themselves. Never went near them went I went to Amerikay, but down around Greenwich Village, near NYU you’d see the odd poster that brought back frightening memories ‘South Africa in revolt: the socialist answer’ etc.

  7. Mike said,

    September 26, 2007 at 8:48 pm

    What a bloody mess the SWP is in whatever they do. In general I agree with splintered that the result of the feud will be a messy compromise. Which means that those elements amongst the leadership of the SWP who have most invested in their self image as revolutionary communists (Harman, Bam-bambery, etc) are hard placed to fight the degenerating influence of the immersion of Respect the populist misalliance on the groups cadre. I’m sorry to say that whatever the merits of some of the material that appears in the ISJ might be the group acts like a prototypical inhabitant of the swamp. Such a shame Harman lacks a spine.

  8. WorldbyStorm said,

    September 26, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    Speaking of New York, CPUSA had a brilliant bookshop along – was it 42nd street, whichever one the Chelsea Hotel is on. Manned by elderly Jewish ladies and African-American men. A sort of Civil Rights era coalition writ large – or late. Was in there as recently as 2001. Some fantastic posters, great books. Well worth a look to those as are interested…


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