North East London RESPECT post election meeting
The clear message from this meeting was that if
Respect is to develop into a mass alternative to New Labour then it must
engage in grassroots campaigning and build links with communities across
North East London between now and the 2005 General Election.
The sense of the contributions from both the
platform and the floor was that it would be wrong to stop campaigning
now and to begin to get our act together in February in time for the
General Election campaign. Lindsey German argued for a campaign to open
up empty houses much as the CPGB did in the 1950s. She pointed to a book
by Pollitt “Our Flag Stays Red” which showed how the CP built a mass
base by relating to local issues where the interest of capital
self-evidently conflicted with the interest of working people.
Another SWP member called for surgeries to be held
to begin to build the campaigning networks that can impact on New Labour
at election time and more importantly in the wider class struggle. All
of this is good stuff and, if carried out, will transform what Respect
can achieve. Given its size in Hackney the SWP will be the lead
organisation and now has several years of experience of how to do this
kind of work. There are now also both old and new non-SWP layers who can
help build such a project. Our joint aim is to minoritize ourselves.
The meeting had between 60 to 70 people in
attendance. There was clearly a new layer of people who had been drawn
to the meeting by the Respect campaign. A group of Kurdish and Turkish
supporters were joined by people from a local mosque and the
afro-Caribbean community. These gains were also seen on the battle bus
where the megaphone was delivering messages in Kurdish, Turkish and
Gujurati. Small but significant gains have been made in this regard over
the course of the campaign. New forces are involved and further progress
The introductions from the platform set the stage
for a good floor discussion in which all views were sought and different
perspectives were heard. There was a genuine political discussion taking
place both between different platform speakers and between the audience.
Lindsey German expressed the view that some of the left had been left
behind by political developments and that new people had come forward.
There was, in truth, a good representation of the pre-war left in the
room who had got to grips with a new political situation. Missing were
the AWL and Workers Power. Also missing was clear representation from
the trade union left beyond those that we knew from the SA.
There is a clear intent on the part of the Respect
leadership to set up branches of the organisation across the country.
These will be the organisational life-blood of Respect if it is to
succeed simply because any left project in the next period must have
clearly accountable democratic structures that the membership can
understand and use. New Labour spent most of the 1980s and 90s building
a structure that insulated the leadership from the members. This was a
clear pre-figuration of the generalised anti-working class policies to
come. Following this experience and the disaster of Stalinism, and the
current general existing distrust of politicians the question of
democratic participation and control is pivotal to the success or
failure of any formation to the left of Labour. Nothing less than a
transparent and understandable structure will do.
Equally important will be Respect’s capacity to go
beyond the essential routinism that permits the one member one vote
system to function in branches and conferences. Self-evidently a mass
organisation will not be built out of attending monthly meetings and
hearing ever more interesting speakers (even if that were possible). The
political life-blood will be week-in-week-out campaigning by Respect
members both as part of other campaigns but also as Respect led and
identified campaigns on key issues. Establishing a campaigning identity
both locally and nationally is a necessity for both name-recognition
come the General Election and to draw to us the people most prepared and
able to combat any further neo-liberal offensives. Also crucial will be
the relationships built up with local community organisation that are
forced to confront the local and national state’s neo-liberal projects.
It is these relationships that will accelerate the crumbling of the
foundations of Labourism.
It is this kind of work that we began in Hackney as
the Socialist Alliance. What is interesting about the Euro vote in
Hackney is that over 4,000 people, or 200 per ward, vote for the left
alternative. Much the same as voted for Paul Foot for Mayor in October
2002. I am pretty sure that this is not the same 4,000 but am certain it
came from the “red belt” across the centre of the borough and from
Muslim voters who saw through the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.
Whilst we are debating whether or not to stand against Diane Abbott in
the north it is certain that we will stand against Meg Hillier in the
south. It is in the south of Hackney where our organisation has always
been the weakest. Our job over the next six months is to build an
organisation that has vibrant organisational meetings for members
because it is rooted politically in local campaigns and community
organisations. If we achieve this we can build on the General Election
result of 2001 and crash into New Labour at the local elections in 2006.