Join Respect everywhere and build it
The issue of whether socialists should join Respect is not as complicated as
John Nicholson makes it in his discussion article on this
site "Why We Should Join Respect or Not"? Socialist should join Respect
because it is simply the best opportunity the left has had for a long time. As
John Pilger said at the London post-election rally: "it is the breakthrough we
have all been waiting for". It is as near as it gets to the only show in town.
There is no point in building the Democratic Socialist Alliance or the
Provisional Socialist Alliance, or any of the other fragmented groups, as
alternatives to Respect. They have no future and in the present period and
pointing to the lower end of the Respect results, as John Nicholson does, does
not resolve their lack of any impact on the election. Respectıs results were
defined by its breakthrough votes not its non-breakthrough votes.
Not that building Respect is without problems - even after such stunning
election results, George Gallowayıs momentous Senate intervention, and the
increased profile and support it has received as a result. But sitting on the
sidelines waiting for something as successful as Respect to come along but which
has no problems or about which you have no reservations could be a long and
True Respect did not do well in every constituency it stood in. It was never
going to, but it had to test the water beyond its most obvious choices. Respect
unique achievement was that it was able to breakthrough both the electoral
system and the stultifying election campaign, by building dynamic campaigns in
key inner city, traditional Labour, working class, constituencies with big
immigrant communities, Muslim, but not only Muslim, which could concentrate a
big vote. It won a mass support in a way no other left party has been able to
achieve. People began to realise that Respect could actually win and that their
vote would not be wastedı.
Respect achieved the near-impossible by winning a Westminster seat as a small
left party under first-past-the-post. That is what first-past-the-post is
designed to prevent. Simply standing under the Respect banner in its self,
however, even where there were big anti-war Muslim populations, did not ensure a
good vote. What produced the vote was previous track record plus strong, well
resourced, outward looking campaigns which drew people in and developed a real
momentum in the communities. It is achieving this which defines Respectıs
success and is why we should grasp the opportunity it presents and build on it.
The trick now is to both consolidate the strong areas and expand out of them.
It is not true, by the way, as John Nicholson alleges, that Socialist Resistance
and the ISG "now perform a largely uncritical role within Respect". Our role in
the Respect conference last October makes that clear enough.
What is true is that we do put the building of Respect in front of advancing our
criticisms of it. What is true is that we did not see the run up to the election
as the best time to polemicise about Respect in public. What is also true is
that we do not table a resolution at every meeting of the National Council or
the Officerıs Committee designed to exposeı the SWP a procedure carried out
with great regularity and absolutely no effect (other than hijacking the
agendas) by the CPGB and the AWL on the Executive and National Council of the
Socialist Alliance (SA).
In fact we have an unresolved strategic difference with the SWP on the future
development of Respect as we did with the SA - on what itıs organisational and
political character should be. Whether it should continue as a coalition, under
which the supporting organisations function informally within it whilst at the
same time operating as fully independent, high profile, organisations on the
public stage, or a political party under which the supporting organisations
functioning in a structured way within it and
conduct their pubic interventions and mobilisations through it - giving the
broad organisation the dominant public profile.
One problem with the current coalition model, particularly when there is an
organisation involved which is as numerically dominant as the SWP, is that as
soon as something important happens the public profile of the SWP overshadows
the public profile of the coalition. This not only deprives the coalition of the
profile it needs but it feeds the perception that the SWP only want to use the
broad organisation when it suits their own party interests to do so.
It is true that the SWP has evolved in a positive direction on some of these
issues since the days of the SA. Not only is the word partyı regularly used to
describe Respect but John Reeseıs article in the May edition of Socialist Review
argues that it is normal for revolutionaries to work within broad organisations
like Respect. The SWP also displays a commitment to Respect which is hugely more
substantial, and long-term, than was the case with the SA. And since Respectıs
election results and George Gallowayıs Senate intervention this commitment has
become even stronger. The difference in concept remains, however, and the
ambiguity is clear. Not only does John Reese end his Socialist Review article by
again defining Respect as a "united front" but it is clear that he means
something different when he refers to Respect as a party than we in Socialist
Resistance would understand the term.
This ambiguity comes out most clearly in the practicalities of building Respect.
John Reeseıs prognosis from the elections results is a good one. He rightly
argues that the results were brilliant but they only established "bridge-head"
for Respect. This bridgehead he says can only be defended and extended by
building Respect into a mass membership campaigning party.
This is an excellent proposal but it has consequences that SWP leaders appear
not to have worked through. How is it possible to have a mass membership party
without strong local branches with a political life of their own to which the
new members can relate? How is it possible to have such a party without a
regular publication or newspaper which is both and educator and an organiser of
that party? How can such a party have an adequate public profile without a
regular publication to sell? In the
absence of this how will these new members be kept in touch with the politics of
Respect and how long will they remain members? Any formula which implies join
Respect but get your information and organisation though reading Socialist
Workerı would not work long term. The contradictions are obvious. Yet the
implementation of the decision of the Respect conference (proposed by SR
supporters) to investigate the launching of such a Respect newspaper has been
slow to say the least though some progress is currently taking place.
The same problem arises with political debates and discussion. There is a much
wider range of political differences within Respect than was the case with the
SA. This is natural because it is a broader organisation. George Gallowayıs well
known views on a number of things are a prime example. Such issues need to be
discussed and understood otherwise they will fester on the margins. But how can
these issues be discussed unless there is a well-developed structure within
Respect both at the level of the elected bodies ad the general membership -
which can contain and develop such discussions? Again this implies a party
approach rather than that of a coalition. In fact a coalition implies that you
settle for the continued existence of these difference rather than seek to
develop a convergence on them.
Respect rightly intends to mount a major challenge in the local elections next
year, and logically it will win seats even control of Tower Hamlets Council is
a possibility. But how can a difficult area of work like local councils,
hamstrung by government controls, be conducted without the kind of strong
leadership bodies and decision making process which only a party can develop?
How can accountability work adequately at local authority level or at
Westminster - without the structure of a political party?
Winning the arguments on the future of Respect will not be easy, of course.But
it is very important since its longer-term future of Respect will not be secured
unless these problems are resolved. Socialist Resistance supporters are taking
up these debates within Respect and will continue to do so.
This debate would be much enriched, however, if a lot of left-wingers and
left-wing organisations who are not currently involved in Respect overcame their
various objections and joined it. Those who object that the SWP is too dominant
could make it less dominant by the act of joining. Those who were in the SA but
did not join Respect should come in. The Morning Star should be in Respect since
reclaiming Labour is patently dead in the water. Red Pepper should join and play
and active role. Respect should be the natural home for those have left the
Labour Party and are still leaving the Labour Party. Most importantly there are
many in the left of the unions who should be inside Respect and playing a major
role. If this kind of development began to happen the terrain would shift inside
Respect and the debates about its further development would be on a different
At the end of John Nıs posting he concludes only that it may be right to join
Respect in some areas. This is far too conservative. The conclusion should be
join Respect in every area, and where there is not a local branch build one. As
John N says in his penultimate paragraph: "I do not think we can build a
successful party along the lines of the SSP without involving the SWP". This is
indeed true and the logic of it is to join Respect and build it.