Sunday, 4 November 2007

The Parting of the Ways

I did promise Brother S I wouldn't be blogging on the Socialist Workers' Party for a while as comment and speculation has ripped through leftblogland like wildfire. But there's certainly a case for AVPS adding its two pennies worth now the camps have formally announced their intention to separate. November 17th will see two Respect conferences going ahead - the 'official' Respect conference for the SWP and its one or two hangers-on, and 'Respect Renewal' gathering for practically everyone else.

A lot of comment has understandably fixated on the minutiae of meetings and emails, but it's also heartening to note a lot of comrades contributing to the discussion  are trying to draw the necessary lessons by examining the split's roots in the politics of Respect. Well, at least that's what one side of the split is trying to do.

This certainly isn't the case with the SWP. I'm gobsmacked how the SWP leadership appears oblivious to how it's gotten itself into this situation. There is absolutely no self-reflection or awareness of its role in polarising nearly everyone in Respect against it, and it is shameless in its repetition of criticisms made of Respect from the outset, which it earlier would have denounced as Islamophobic. It whinges about Respect's trajectory away from basic socialist positions, and yet does not acknowledge the role played by the SWP leadership in systematically voting them down. And as for its recent discovery that Galloway has not been accountable to Respect, has the SWP been living under a rock? Who bares primary responsibility for letting this state of affairs persist for so long?

On all these matters there is nothing but silence. The leadership knows everything but learns nothing. Farcically, this looks set to continue. For example, the SWP's chief demand is "let the members decide" at Respect's conference, while brazenly stacking conference with delegates from its organisation. Can it not understand how some would find this sort of behaviour deeply alienating? And what will this rather sad event amount to? Something akin to a revivalist meeting with the SWP and a few fellow travellers congratulating each other about "winning" Respect and driving away the "opportunist" and "communalist" elements is most likely. You can almost see it now. In the months ahead, to save face, the SWP's Respect will be heavily pushed and probably a big effort will be made at next year's local and London elections. But in the long term, an organisation representing no one but the SWP has no future. It may be a useful bargaining chip if the SWP enters into negotiations with other left forces, but as a straight front it will not, and cannot be allowed to have any independent life.

As for the SWP itself, it has come out of this faction fight badly bruised. It's reputation lies in tatters, it's absurd Respect petition has made it a laughing stock, and most damaging it has lost a layer of experienced activists. But the SWP is not facing an imminent demise. It has proven to be an extremely durable organisation, despite the 180 degree turns and outright volte-faces it has imposed on itself over the years. Plus the SWP continues to occupy a certain niche on the far left, ensuring a steady stream of activists to replace those who have dropped out. Without a doubt, the SWP will remain a sizeable presence for many years to come.

So much for the SWP, what of the Renewing Respect grouping? It may lack a large pool of disciplined activists, but I think it has far more potential than the SWP's vehicle. Judging by the steady stream of documents on Socialist Unity, it is significant that a broad consensus has emerged around the lessons of the Respect experience and working with the SWP. In an earlier post, I speculated it was united only in opposition to Rees et al. But it seems the struggle has impressed upon everyone the need for unity on a basis stronger than lowest-common-denominator politics and a laissez-faire attitude to elected representative's behaviour. How the new formation will be able to make Galloway and the Tower Hamlets councillors accountable remains to be seen, but if they are overcome positively, this could give Renewing Respect the kind of legs among the wider left that Respect mk I lacked. 

The direction of this project will be decided on November 17th, and I think there is every reason for optimism that a step toward a new, viable left formation will be made. I sincerely hope that the Socialist Party sends a team along to offer our comradely regards, and that this is reciprocated at our Socialism 2007 event, just down the road.

11 comments:

Eddie Truman said...

Excellent post Phil.
I do wonder if the Respect Renewal group have an ace up their sleeve in the form of a possible loose alliance with the CPB/Morning Star and some trade union elements.
If that was the case it would be a qualitatively new situation and leave the SWP completely out manoeuvred.
In that situation comrades across the UK would have to consider what orientation to take to such a formation.

Dave Riley said...

Yeah --I agree with Eddie --a considered and very useful post which considers the issues and tactics in play without being obsessed with the SWP.

Scott said...

Also don't the "Respect Renewal group" have another Ace? isn't the offical party leader (Not GG but Linder Smith) and nominating officer on there side.
If so then the "offical" respect party (SWP et al) can't nominate candates since she has to sign the paper work off.

Tony Greenstein said...

I agree, it is an excellent comment. The SWP Central Committee seems like a runaway train, unable to change direction, strategy or tactics. Just what they believe they've got out of Respect by their behaviour beats me. What I don't agree with is that the SWP will continue for much longer with Respect. It is unlikely to pull in anyone now who wouldn't join the SWP were they so minded. Another sectarian milestone for them to chalk up.

Miles said...

Peace broke out in Manchester Respect last night.
See my blog.

Phil BC said...

Thanks for all your kind comments.

I think Tony is right. The SWP won't get much mileage from a front solely controlled by them, with only themselves in it. And as Scott points out, as Linda Smith is with Galloway, chances are the SWP won't be able to use the name anyway - and after the disgusting rumours spread by John Rees at last weekend's party council, I doubt she'll be inclined to allow them to use it. So perhaps I was being optimistic(!) concerning the prospects of the SWP's Respect!

Jim Denham said...

I sincerely hope that the Socialist party has nothing whatsoever to do with the communalist, small business - dominated reactionary diversion that will emerge from the anti-SWp conerence on Nov 17th. You may not agree with 'Shiraz Socialist' and the AWL that critical but unconditional support to the SWP is the correct 'line': but at the very least, for you lot, it should be 'a plague on both your houses' and 'good riddence', surely?

Phil BC said...

Well Jim, generally speaking Galloway isn't popular among the SP's membership. But unlike your goodselves it possesses the political nous to realise Renewal *could* play a positive role on the way to a new left formation. This is dependent on a whole range of factors, the key being if Galloway and its other representatives can be reigned in, and the extent other forces get involved. We are sending some comrades from Socialism across to the event to wish it well.

As for the SWP's event, well, what will it represent exactly? The SWP. Is it likely to play a positive role in left alignment? Not on your nelly.

Just out of a matter of historical interest Jim, did you and the AWL have such a bee in its bonnet about "communalism" when aspiring Muslim politicians mobilised family and friend networks to get themselves into Labour party positions?

Jim Denham said...

We did kick up a fuss within the LP, yes: but the LP wasn't (and isn't) actually *built* on the foundastion of communalism - as is Respect.

Renegade Eye said...

This Sunday I'm going to a conference on socialism, sponsored by Socialist Alternative, the local CWI affiliate.

Phil BC said...

@Jim - to quote Salma Yaqoob, “The fault line of “communalist politics”’ in Birmingham has most recently been between African-Caribbean and Asian communities who often feel in competition with each other over council funding. These tensions tragically ignited in Lozells where two young people lost their lives. There is no political figure in Birmingham more closely associated with trying to address these tensions than myself.

That is why I initiated the women and children’s Peace March in the aftermath of the Lozells riots which received very high local news coverage. That is why Respect supporters took great risks, behind the scenes, to ensure there was no retaliation from Pakistani gangs in the aftermath of the desecration of Muslim graves in Handsworth cemetery.

When I spoke from the platform of the recent Jesse Jackson rally to a 600 strong (and overwhelmingly African-Caribbean) audience, I used my time to call for black and Asian unity. It is not accidental that I was the only politician to speak at the recent march in Lozells against Gangs and Guns organised by the Council of Black Led Churches.

Furthermore, both in my newsletters and within the council chamber I have specifically championed the issue of poor educational attainment of white working class boys from disadvantaged backgrounds.

If I wanted to pander to conservative pressure inside the Muslim community, appearing on Question Time and opposing the imposition of Islamic dress on women, opposing the criminalisation of women in the sex industry, or opposing homophobia in the local media, would not exactly be the best way to go about it!”

In addition, when I was regularly meeting Brum SWP members over the summer as part of my research, I saw very little evidence these white British comrades were pandering to "communalism". When I asked about their activities, the stuff they described was pretty much the same kinds of community-based activities the SP does in St. Michaels in Coventry. I'm increasingly convinced the charge of communalism is, in most cases, a complete red herring.

@Renegade Eye - I look forward to seeing your report about the event!