The Socialist Unity Network

A delegates conference means more influence for outside London

There is a nice idea going around that a delegate basis for Respect's Founding Conference would avoid domination by London (and Londoners).

It is a nice idea.

But it is sadly not true in fact.

The membership of Respect is highest in London. The branches exist in London. The Conference is being held in London. The majority of the Conference delegates (and therefore of the Conference participants) will therefore be in

The fact that the rest of the country has a spread out membership which wont all be in branches or able to get to branches at which delegates may or may not be elected means that there will be both comparatively and actually fewer people from outside London. And in any case there's no incentive to travel any great distance to London, especially if you are trying to return home on a Sunday on a Virgin "train"....

Anyone who has ever organised a Conference of any sort knows this will be the case.

Meanwhile the recent SWP Party Notes' description of forthcoming SWP / Respect structures makes for fascinating reading.

"Respect: We want to argue for a strategy inside local Respect groups. We may or may not win this but we think it's a sensible position. Firstly we want to argue for a representative, elected committee to run Respect. We should try to pull together the key anti-war, trade union, Muslim activists who were involved in the Euro/GLA/by-elections to give a lead to the work of the organisation in each area. Secondly we want to argue for a big monthly Respect event (film showing, meal, party, public meeting) to boost the public face of the organisation. Of course alongside all this we need Respect to be a campaigning organisation taking up local and national issue"

While the SWP has the following structure:

"Socialist Worker district forums: We want to create a big, lively, political face for the SWP.  ...

District Committee: ...  The district committee can give an overall lead, supporting and directing the work of comrades in united front activity. ... and giving direction to the build up to district SW forums.

Local Socialist Worker forums. This should be the basic unit of the party. .. ... The branch doesn't need a top-heavy structure but it does need a branch secretary and a branch Socialist Worker organiser."

On the one hand the SWP will have a monthly public forum and another SWP forum (implying an SWP branch within this) - and (echoing the line in Respect's recently published Constitution) the latter will be the "basic" unit of the party organisation.

On the other hand, Respect is to have a monthly public event and a "representative" committee.

However, it is not obvious where the Respect branch will be in all this (this is the equally "basic" unit, according to the Respect constitution).

I may be missing something, but doesn't this imply that in reality respect will have an open-type meeting or event (monthly or similar; possibly overlapping/duplicating with the monthly swp event) and then there will be a committee taking the decisions for the area. But actually the ordinary membership may be looking around for an ordinary branch meeting.

The oft-quoted retrospect by SWP members, about their local Socialist Alliance branch meetings, was that these represented what was most hateful about the Socialist Alliance - the boring business of having to discuss things with ordinary non-aligned (or non-SWP) common or garden members.

I must admit that it is possible that members who have joined just to show support for the anti-war movement (and who are not going to anti-war meetings or activities any longer) may in fact not be bothered about participating in meetings. But the point about any democratic, unity-seeking, broad coalition of different interests, is that a regular meeting where discussion and debate take place is the only way in which the ordinary membership can influence the policy and practice of the organisation. (Or can elect delegates who will determine the composition of the National Committee and Executive Committee.)

Leaving the ordinary business of the local branch up to a "representative" committee - busy fitting its priority between the broad-front-of-a-special-kind and the party - and flitting between monthly forums and monthly events (including picnicking in the late summer sunshine) - means leaving the (non-ruling party) membership in practice disenfranchised.

Don't say we're just going the same way all over again?

If Respect is, as some feel, the only (game?) show in town, the trouble is that a lot of people have already been to see it and aren't going back for a second performance ........


September 2004


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism