Peace will come (according to my plan)

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All right, it’s back to the well. Tissues restored and critical sense fortified by the Cup of Tea of Truth and the Chocolate Gravy Ring of Justice. Stereo playing Southern Culture on the Skids.

Whiiite traaaaash
Dang dang dang dang DANG
Don’t call me that…

The perfect atmosphere to return to Respect. Now, there are a few simple rules in life that, if you follow them religiously, will always stand you in good stead. One is that, if you are shaking hands with a leader of the Socialist Workers Party, it’s worth counting your fingers afterwards. If war in Respect has been replaced with peace, then it very quickly proved to be a phoney peace.

You will recall that, at last Saturday’s National Council, peace broke out. An agreed resolution was adopted, and Alan reports that the proceedings were generally constructive, or at least did not end in fisticuffs. The SWP retreated from their belligerent stance, presumably on the basis that they couldn’t be sure of victory. Then, according to long-time SWP cadre Nick Bird, at the SWP Party Council the next day belligerence was resumed. CC members rose one after the other to proclaim that the war went on, that this was a fight between left and right in Respect, that George was an egotistical martinet, that the Bengali councillors in Tower Hamlets were “communalists” etc etc.

Now it would be tempting to believe that the SWP leadership had come to its senses and was preparing to dump the populism of Respect and return to being a hardened Marxist propaganda group, but I don’t believe that for a second. Bear in mind that the Party Council, a relatively recent innovation of dubious constitutionality, exists as a transmission belt for the board to gather their middle managers together and instruct them in the line. Therefore it’s more likely we are talking about spin and rhetoric on a grand scale.

The most important thing to realise is that this is uncharted territory for the SWP. They have very little history of forming meaningful alliances. They prefer to work with individuals rather than other organisations. Were the SWP building an alliance in Dublin – and the People Before Profit Alliance is supposed to be the Irish equivalent of Respect – you would expect it to consist 95% of the SWP, plus a few token individuals who don’t have any organisational weight behind them. And lo, so it is, and so it was during the short-lived Socialist Alliance when they were happy to have Meehan and Des Res on the platform. But Respect isn’t like that. George, for better or worse, is the indispensable man, one of the most high-profile politicians in the country, and there is no way that somebody like Rees could just step into his shoes. Salma, whose achievements in Brum are in some ways more important, is an asset they can’t do without, much as they might like to. The East End Bengalis have enough critical mass to keep a small local party going with or without the SWP.

What the SWP have going for them is that many Respect branches outside London and Brum have virtually nobody in them except for the SWP – which is why they lie dormant most of the time – and that they control the national apparat. Neither of those is a trump card, which might go some way to explaining the hysterical defence of Rees’ position.

Put against that is unease in the ranks. I don’t believe for a second that the SWP ranks have been correcting the mistakes of their leaders – the SWP has no mechanisms for that – but people like Harman, Begbie and Martin Smith are certainly capable of sniffing the air. So my interpretation is that all this guff about a left-right showdown is purely designed to reassure the members. In fact it’s more plausible to see the SWP as being the conservative right wing of Respect. Far from pushing for Respect to have a more socialist profile, or trying to influence the Muslim wing in a socialist direction, it has hid its Marxist light under a bushel and opposed any attempts to do anything like this, or even proposals such as a regular Respect paper that might have created space for debate. This is of course tied in to their self-image as The Revolutionary Party. Respect, meanwhile, is what Prof Callinicos calls a “united front of a special type” (which always brings to mind “socialism with Chinese characteristics” for some reason) and therefore can’t have any of the attributes of a socialist party. No, it must be maintained as an unstable coalition, which is why they can’t really complain if George makes up policy on the hoof, or goes into Big Brother after giving Rees 24 hours’ notice.

The same goes for the SWP’s recent discovery of “communalism”, which they have just nicked from people who have been making the same accusation against Respect for the last three years. If they were actively trying to unite the Muslims against them, they couldn’t have picked a better strategy. Nor, and I shouldn’t need to say this, is it a smart strategy to deliberately downplay gay rights (although George is quite good on gays, it’s abortion he’s dodgy on) and then suddenly demand that Muslim councillors dance on a float at Pride to prove their commitment to equality.

Incidentally, I am intrigued by Nick’s statement that a document from the Irish SWP was brought to the Party Council. Not that I’m dying to see the text – I expect it’s just an anodyne statement from Swiss Toni pledging support for whatever the Brits want to do. But I would hazard a guess, taking as an example Swiss’ cretinous performance over the excommunication of the American heretics, that nobody outside the PC has seen this document, and there has almost certainly been no organised discussion in the ranks.

10 Comments

  1. Phil said,

    October 6, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    it’s more plausible to see the SWP as being the conservative right wing of Respect. Far from pushing for Respect to have a more socialist profile, or trying to influence the Muslim wing in a socialist direction, it has hid its Marxist light under a bushel and opposed any attempts to do anything like this

    As much as I hate being on the same side as George Galloway, I think this is spot on.

  2. WorldbyStorm said,

    October 6, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    What is amazing to me is how the SWP as an entity was able to remain coherent enough to enter/form Respect – which after all seems to be essentially just another pretty social democratic sort of an organisation which found its major niche as an expression of anti-war sentiment? Was there any attrition of members at that point, or afterward? The current hand-wringing by the SWP as the war dies down as an issue and their inability to push Respect in a more socialist line just seems so inevitable…

  3. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 6, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    Damage control comes into it. Quite a few SWP members weren’t enthusiastic about Respect, but they just stay outside and quietly do their own thing. The leadership tolerates that as long as they don’t actually challenge the main direction. And I think there has been attrition of members due to people going native – something similar happened in Scotland.

    I think what’s clear is that if the war dies down then Respect will either broaden its appeal or die. Some people understand that, but I’m not sure the SWP CC do. Or if they do, whether they have any ideas what to do about it.

  4. WorldbyStorm said,

    October 6, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    In a way it must be very frustrating for them – hence the sudden currency of the term communalist – to see Respect evolve in a way which is radically different to where they would like it to go (assuming as you say that they have a clear idea what that is). I’m not slagging off Respect when I say it’s social democratic (old style – naturally), but that is the logic of its current development path and how the SWP fits in there I just can’t see. In a way what would be needed would be a broader entity again within which the SWP and Respect could become participating platforms. But that would turn the whole exercise inside out so presumably it’s a non-starter.

  5. Phil said,

    October 6, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    their inability to push Respect in a more socialist line

    That formulation implies they were trying to do this – or would have liked to, even. I don’t think that was ever the idea; if a party could be built it would be a socialist party, and to the extent that a mass socialist party could be built it would be the SWP. Hence this strange electoral front, whose only rationale seems to be ‘capitalise on the anti-war movement’ – and, secondarily, ‘build a vehicle which will enable us to continue to capitalise on the anti-war movement’.

    The best thing for RESPECT would be for the SWP (or most of it) to dissolve into it, as the Scottish Mils did into the SSP. The next best would be for the SWP (or most of it) to leave – either one would give it a chance to develop its own identity as a party, although obviously under much more difficult conditions in the second case.

  6. Andy Newman said,

    October 6, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    WbS: “Was there any attrition of members at that point, or afterward?”

    Not much – but i resigned :o)

  7. Andy Newman said,

    October 6, 2007 at 10:33 pm

    The other thing, is that the SWP have a vastly exaggerated idea of their own popuallrity and profile.

    From what i gather, the SWP seem quietly confident that they will win one possible two ) seats in the London assmebly, hich requires above 96000 voesm and doing better than the BNP. What is more they feel confident of doing this even if they break publiclay with GG,Salma Yaqoob, and the Bengali councillor in East London

    The thing about electoral politics is there is no hiding from harsh reality so there will be tears in May next year.

  8. Andy Newman said,

    October 6, 2007 at 10:34 pm

    That should read: “which requires above 96000 votes and doing better than the BNP”

  9. WorldbyStorm said,

    October 7, 2007 at 8:04 am

    Andy, I’d completely agree re your point about how inflated expectations can crush political aspiration when one actually comes into contact with electoral politics. I’d think that it would be very unwise for any political formation to talk up to an unrealistic degree their election chances and in a way I can’t see the rationale for it. It’s all much like Phil says, no clear direction, merely tapping into a sudden surge which was generated by the war. And yet that doesn’t – to me at least – explain how sincere and intelligent people can’t apparently confront the paradoxical situation they are in. Was it simply all done in hope?

  10. Matt said,

    October 7, 2007 at 11:51 pm

    sorry for an ignorant question from a yank, but does Respect even have a program? Who developed it? Voted on it? Where could I find such a thing.


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