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.